Implications for Incineration and Energy Recovery

The heat value of MSW (4800-5400 Btu/lb) is lower than that of traditional fuels such as wood (5400-7200 Btu/lb), coal (7000-15,000 Btu/lb), and liquid or gaseous petroleum products (18,000-24,000 Btu/lb) (Camp Dresser & McKee 1991, 1992a,b; Niessen 1995). The heat value of MSW is sufficient, however, to sustain combustion without the use of supplementary fuel.

Heat value is an important parameter in the design or procurement of solid waste combustion facilities because each facility has the capacity to process heat at a certain rate. The greater the heat value of a unit mass of waste, the smaller the total mass of waste the facility can process.

The ash and moisture content of MSW is high compared to that of other fuels. Most of the ash is contained in relatively large objects that do not become suspended in the flue gas (Niessen 1995). Ash handling is a major consideration at MSW combustion facilities.

Because of its high ash and moisture content and low density, MSW has low energy density (heat content per unit volume) (Niessen 1995). Therefore, MSW combustion facilities must be designed to process large volumes of material.

The effect of recycling programs on the heat value of MSW is not well documented. Numerous attempts have been made to project the impact of recycling based on the measured heat values of individual MSW components (for example, see Camp Dresser & McKee [1992a]). Little reliable data exist, however, that document the effect of known levels of recycling on the waste received at operating combustion facilities.

A reasonable assumption is that recycling materials with below-average heat values raises the heat value of the remaining waste, while recycling materials with above-average heat values reduces the heat value of the remaining waste. The removal of recyclable metal and glass containers increases heat value (and reduces ash content), while the recovery of plastics for recycling reduces heat value. The removal of paper for recycling also reduces heat value. Because recycled paper has a low moisture content, its heat value is 30% to 40% higher than that of MSW as a whole.

The increase in heat value caused by recycling glass and metal is probably greater than the reduction caused by recycling paper. Because plastics are generally recycled in small quantities, the reduction in heat value caused by their removal is relatively small. The most likely overall effect of recycling is a small increase in heat value and a decrease in ash content.

Sulfur in MSW is significant because sulfur oxides (SOx) have negative effects and corrode natural and manmade materials. SOx combines with oxygen and water to form sulfuric acid. A solid waste combustion facility must maintain stack temperatures above the dew point of sulfuric acid to prevent corrosion of the stack. Niessen (1995) provides additional information.

Like sulfur, chlorine has both health effects and corrosive effects. Combustion converts organic (insoluble) chlorine to hydrochloric acid (HCl). Because HCl is highly soluble in water, it contributes to corrosion of metal surfaces both inside and outside the facility (Niessen 1995).

Chlorine is a component of additional regulated compounds including dioxins and furans. Trace concentrations of dioxins and furans can be present in the waste or can be formed during combustion. Niessen (1995) provides additional discussion.

Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) form during the combustion of solid waste, both from nitrogen in the waste and in the air. NOx reacts with other substances in the atmosphere to form ozone and other compounds that reduce visibility and irritate the eyes (Niessen 1995).

Emissions of SOx, NOx, chlorine compounds, and hydrocarbons are regulated and must be controlled (see Section 10.9 and Niessen [1995]). Emissions of hydrocarbons and chlorine compounds other than HCl can generally be controlled by optimization of the combustion process. Maintaining complete control of the combustion of material as varied as MSW is difficult, however, so small quantities of hydrocarbons and complex chlorine compounds are emitted from time to time.

Combustion cannot destroy metals. Assuming that a combustion facility is designed with no discharge of the water used to quench the combustion ash, the toxic met als in the waste end up in the ash or are emitted into the air. Regulations limit the emission of toxic metals.

The tendency of a metal to be emitted from a combustion facility is a function of many factors such as:

• The volatility of the metal

• The chemical form of the metal

• The degree to which the metal is bound in other materials, especially noncombustible materials

• The degree to which the metal is captured by the air pollution control system

Emissions of a metal from a solid waste combustion facility cannot be predicted based on the abundance of the metal in the waste.

Mercury is the most volatile of the metals of concern, and a substantial portion of the mercury in MSW escapes capture by the air pollution control systems at MSW combustion facilities. The quantity of mercury in MSW has declined rapidly in recent years because battery manufacturers have eliminated most of the mercury in alkaline and carbon-zinc batteries. One cannot assume that a reduction in the quantity of mercury in batteries proportionately reduces the quantity emitted from MSW combustion facilities, however.

All but a small fraction of each metal other than mercury becomes part of the ash residue either because it never enters the facility stack or because it is captured by the air pollution control system. The environmental significance of a metal in combustion ash residue depends primarily on its leachability and the toxicity of its leachable forms. A portion of the ash residue from some MSW combustion facilities is regulated as hazardous waste because of the tendency of a toxic metal (usually lead or cadmium) to leach from the ash under the test conditions specified by the U.S. EPA.

Niessen (1995) and Chandler & Associates, Ltd. et al. (1993) provide additional information on the implications of solid waste characteristics with combustion as a disposal method. Niessen provides a comprehensive treatise on waste combustion from the perspective of an environmental engineer. The final report of Chandler & Associates, Ltd. et al. provides a detailed study of the relationships among metals concentrations in individual components of MSW, metals concentrations in stack emissions, and metals concentrations in various components of ash residue at a single MSW combustion facility.

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