Thursday, July 23, 2015

Some Comments on the US Market for Waste-to-Energy Plants

Internet data suggests that in the United States (US), a range of 7 to 12% of municipal solid waste (MSW) currently is used in waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration. And, in the European Union (EU), the WTE range is 18 to 23%.  The total MSW amount (not just that incinerated but also recycled/composted and land-filled) appears to be about 265 million metric tons (mt) in the US and about 250 million mt in the EU.  These totals are based on assuming that each person in the US generates about 5 pounds of MSW per day and in the EU about 3 pounds and the US population is 319 million and the EU population is 503 million.

Assurances on exactly what the WTE percentages are seem to me to be very difficult to pin down.   This is because percentages (found on the Internet) are based on assumptions, estimates, and surveys and searching the Internet exhaustively can find different percentages for WTE use.   But most of what is found falls in the ranges given above.  With respect to total MSW amounts for both the US and the EU, total populations used are probably fairly accurate.  Pounds of MSW per person are based on a range of estimates found on the Internet.

The US has long been recognized as significantly lagging the EU in the use of WTE.  However, with the recent opening of the Palm Beach County, Florida’s WTE plant (apparently the first US WTE plant to be opened in the last 20 years) and the preponderance of scientific research, data, and analysis supporting WTE as the best alternative compared to land-filling, the US may be about to increase its percentage of WTE use.

Assuming the mid-point (9.5% for the US; 20.5% for the EU) for the above-provided WTE ranges, the US uses about 25 million mt of MSW per year in WTE (0.095 X 265 million mt total MSW) and the EU uses about 51 million mt per year (0.205 X 250 million mt).  Should the US grow to the same level as the EU (20.5%) in its WTE use, the US would go from 25 million mt per year to 54 (0.205 X 265) million mt per year in WTE use.   The new West Palm Beach plant is reported to be able to process about 1 million tons (presumably US not metric tons), so should the US reach an approximate EU WTE percentage level, more than 30 West Palm Beach-size plants would be needed.

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