Top 6 Waste-to-Energy Technologies and Innovations in 2023

November 24, 2023 - Ellie Gabel

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Waste-to-energy technologies may be one of the many answers to fossil fuels. Renewable energy discussions often highlight solar panels and wind turbines. However, WTE is another powerful contender in the conversation. All renewable energy generation methods will inevitably work together to form a greener tomorrow, but WTE has made a bigger and more viable name for itself in the last year. 

So, what are the WTE technologies to watch for, and how have humans innovated on the concept in 2023?

What Are Waste-to-Energy Technologies?

Waste-to-energy technologies are more sustainable methods of energy generation. They involve taking waste products and converting them into power. This method falls under the category of recovered energy because it repurposes resources for generation, thereby reducing its carbon footprint and eliminating the need for fresh materials. 

The most common waste for it includes everything from food waste, organic matter like brush, wastewater, animal waste, sludge and more. Even grease is a possible feedstock for WTE tech. 

In the last couple of years, innovations in WTE technology have revolutionized the space, diversifying the methods, speeds and efficiencies of power generation. In an age where the climate does not allow humanity to perfect every type of energy generation machinery and method, researchers must simultaneously work on many variations. 

What are some of those WTE technologies that could become prominent in the coming years?

1. Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC)

HTC converts feedstocks like algae, food waste and other biosolids into hydrochar for power. Hydrochar is a material dense in carbon and is usable as an alternative to coal and other solid fuels. It can also eliminate pollutants in water and soil. The waste goes into a reactor, which pressurizes and processes it geothermally. Thermochemical reactions are the drivers for this reaction, and it makes an end product in a relatively short time. 

HTC is so innovative because it allows processors to use wet waste. This is monumental for a few reasons. First, it expands the types of waste possible for WTE production. Secondly, it removes a drying phase in production necessary for some times of trash. Taking this out of the equation saves time and money, making operations more streamlined and scalable.

2. Thermal Treatment on Grate Incinerators

Grate incineration technology is the most widespread and employed method of WTE technology. However, it is contentious because of how many toxic byproducts and pollutants it produces, such as ash and carbon dioxide. However, that does not mean energy experts cannot innovate it to become clean.

New boiler and stoker models reduce the damaging impact incineration plants have. It is more efficient at continually capturing radiant heat and repurposing it as energy. This means the pesky ash and other pollutants that are afterthoughts of the combustion process are less likely to hit the environment. 

3. Anaerobic Digestion

AD is essential for producing biogas. This method converts countless feedstocks into energy by leveraging microbes in a zero-oxygen environment. It takes an already existing natural process and transforms it for industry application. The gas that AD creates travels through pipelines after purification to ensure a clean substance. They undergo a biological process that forms gas and digestates, perfect for creating agricultural fertilizers. 

Expansion and innovations in AD empower tons of industries, from food to wastewater treatment. Because it produces a gas and a solid makes it ideal from a profit standpoint because even the waste is useful. Tons of companies can contribute food waste or wastewater sludge for greener energy or fuel for cars.

4. Dendro Liquid Energy

DLE may put other WTE technologies into overdrive with its efficiency — other methods will have to catch up. The bioenergy market is projected to be worth $229 billion by 2030, and some attribute that in part to DLE, which has very little coverage in its early stages of development. It promises to be four times more efficient than AD methods, leaving no trace of waste or emissions.

It claims to do this by using organic waste to create synthetic gas called syngas. The syngas contained predominantly carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The reason this is innovative is that it requires hot temperatures without combustion, removing concerns about other WTE technologies, like incineration. 

5. Methane Pyrolysis

Pyrolysis in and of itself is a powerful WTE method, but methane pyrolysis is particularly important because of how it could empower hydrogen production. Electrolysis is expensive and complicated to scale, but methane pyrolysis produces hydrogen and carbon for the price of one greenhouse gas. It could rebrand one of the most monumental environmental pollutants into a 100% clean energy. 

The plastic industry may also want to keep its eyes on this WTE method. The byproduct of methane pyrolysis — carbon black — is nearly identical to fossil fuel compounds required for making plastic. It could eliminate the industry’s reliance on petroleum forever if adequately scaled.

6. Plasma Arc Gasification

Most WTE technologies repurpose organic waste, but what about hazardous or radioactive materials? Plasma arc gasification is here to take care of that particular group of waste. It is innovative for this reason, but more research is required to reduce the price of this very energy-intensive process. Companies can also perform PAG with typical organic feedstocks.

PAG creates energy by creating syngas like DLE with temperatures up to 7,000°C. Much like AD and methane pyrolysis, it also creates a valuable byproduct called slag, which construction professionals can leverage, like glass. It reinforces a circular economy that WTE technologies attempt to promote and normalize.

Waste-to-Energy Technologies Redefining Green Power

Chemists, engineers, energy professionals, and everyone in between must find ways to reuse trash to make power. The variety of waste-to-energy technologies proves how significant the method is for diversifying the world’s renewable energy portfolio. 

While more research and funding are necessary to make it possible on a more prominent commercial scale, it is well on its way to being adequately acknowledged in the energy industry for how revolutionary these ideas are in fighting the climate crisis.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Ellie Gabel

Ellie Gabel is a science writer specializing in astronomy and environmental science and is the Associate Editor of Revolutionized. Ellie's love of science stems from reading Richard Dawkins books and her favorite science magazines as a child, where she fell in love with the experiments included in each edition.

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