Energy and Materials from Waste

Patrick Clerens
Clerens Consulting, an organisation with extensive knowledge
of Waste-to-Energy legislation and technology.

In the past decades there have been two exponentially growing concerns, both in the developed and the developing world. On the one hand, there is waste and its management; our consumption-driven lifestyle produces more and more waste, leading to environmental and sanitary issues. On the other hand, there is a growing energy demand around the world, and an increasing desire for this energy to be sustainable.

How can waste management and sustainable growth objectives be combined? Waste-to-Energy (WtE) could offer solutions to both – and other concerns.

The Global Village

As globalisation and urbanisation continue, and alongside them the modern lifestyles involving consumption, products are increasingly mass produced and bought off-the-shelf. To facilitate export, import, shipping, distribution, storage, sale and usage, all products are packaged in one way or another, usually in several layers of different types of material. This means that an increase in consumption generally leads to an increase in waste, and with it, the need for more efficient waste management.

Municipal Waste

Out of all waste categories, Municipal Waste – i.e. your average waste bag – is among the most difficult to deal with due to its complex composition. Municipal waste contains not only food waste, glass, paper, plastic and metal, which can be recycled, but also consists of many discarded items which may not be recyclable for a variety of reasons.

An alternative to landfilling

The easiest way out is to collect all this waste and to landfill it. However, this solution is less than elegant. For starters, you need space to do it – which is not always a possibility in small or densely populated areas. Secondly, it’s bad for the environment, as landfills will emit methane (due to the decay of organic waste) and might contaminate groundwater and soil (due to potential leakage).

As an alternative to landfilling, Europe has been developing WtE technology, which is better suited to handle residual waste.

A landfill in the UK

What about recycling?

WtE helps minimising landfilling and makes the most sense when part of a comprehensive waste management strategy. It follows the waste hierarchy that ranks the different waste-management strategies. In order of importance, waste should be (1) reduced, (2) reused, (3) recycled, after which there is (4) energy recovery and, as the last resort, (5) disposal. This means that only the waste which cannot be avoided, reused or recycled will be incinerated to produce energy, minimising the waste landfilled.

WtE, a clean technology

Subjected to strict emission regulations in the EU, WtE plants have the lowest emissions levels of any combustion industry. Sophisticated filters and processes eliminate or capture the pollutants contained in the waste in an efficient, sustainable and reliable way, ensuring minimal emissions. These EU standards are adopted in many other locations as well, as they guarantee the cleanest functioning of WtE plants.

A Waste-to-Energy plant in Austria

Renewable Energy and Metal Recovery

The recovered energy can be used as electricity and/or heat; half of which is to be considered renewable, as it is produced by the carbon-neutral biogenic fraction of the waste. Other usable fractions are metals, which are recycled, and minerals, which can be reused as construction material for roads.

Metals can be recovered from unrecyclable waste through the WtE bottom ash. These metals have value and are recycled


In a time where we need to be more resource-efficient and where diversification of energy sources and the development of climate-friendly energy supplies are paramount, WtE offers a solution while dealing with the waste in a sustainable way.

Worldwide, Clerens Consulting sees a significant potential market for Waste-to-Energy. There are already various locations, e.g. in emerging countries, that are looking for Waste-to-Energy technologies but need guidance from those with experience in the field. Know-how for municipal or national decision-makers is available through Clerens Consulting’s network of experienced European suppliers and experts.

Growing awareness of environmental issues, such as the push away from landfilling and into recycling and Waste-to-Energy is a very encouraging trend. Let’s make it happen!

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