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Waste-to-energy technologies present opportunity for startups

Instead of unwanted food going to landfill to decompose (and to produce atmospheric emissions), researchers have outlined a new approach — one which presents the benefits of using food waste as a potential source of energy. This environmental initiative comes from Argonne National Laboratory and the technology presents opportunities for start-ups, especially in presenting alternative energy solutions to businesses.

Instead of food waster being hauled to landfill sites this waste could be collected and used as an organic source to power garbage trucks, cars, trucks or premises. This would avoid the considerable quantities of methane emissions that stem from landfill sites. Landfill gas is problem; it is a complex mix of different gases created by the action of microorganisms within a landfill. Landfill gas is approximately forty to sixty percent methane, with the remainder mostly consisting of carbon dioxide. Of these emissions, methane has a global warming potential of 23 times more effective of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a 100-year time horizon.

Instead of letting the gas pollute the atmosphere, landfill gas utilization initiatives are taking place. These involve gathering, processing and treating the methane gas emitted from decomposing garbage to produce electricity, heat, fuels and various chemical compounds. According to Professor Uisung Lee food waste can be used for the purpose of repurposing methane as an energy source. The researcher has developed and fine tuned novel methods to produce fuel from municipal waste. These include the biochemical, such as anaerobic digestion and fermentation; and the thermochemical, such as hydrothermal liquefaction. He has also demonstrated that the resulting energy products include renewable natural gas and hydrocarbon fuels (gasoline, diesel and jet fuel). Professor Lee has also performed calculations that show converting waste to energy has environmental benefits compared to typical landfills that collect and combust landfill gas.

The technological approach has been presented to the Journal of Cleaner Production in a peer reviewed paper. The paper is headed “Evaluation of landfill gas emissions from municipal solid waste landfills for the life-cycle analysis of waste-to-energy pathways.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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