One Man’s Filth is Another Man’s Fuel – new developments in landfill mining

The Problem:

Back in 2010 the Coalition Government set targets to create green technologies that lower carbon emissions and encourage an eco-friendly economy. This means a 300% increase in renewable energy production before the end of the decade, with over 50% of this renewable energy being bioenergy.

But how is this possible?

Well within the next 15 to 20 years the UK’s household rubbish disposed of decades ago into landfill sites could become our fuel for the future. This country produces over 280 million tonnes of waste each year, about half of which is buried in landfill sites. But by 2018 the UK is predicted to run out of space to bury this rubbish.

Now on the horizon is a potential solution to this problem and one which is an evolution of the landfill mining technique ‘plasma technology’ (superheating waste to create clean and relatively cheap gas that in turn generates electricity). This innovative new approach is known as the Pyroformer/Gasifier project.

The Solution: The Pyroformer/Gasifier Project

Researchers at Aston University, Birmingham, with the backing of various private firms, are developing the Pyroformer, which uses waste products to generate cost-effective heat and power.

The Pyroformer has a heat transfer mechanism that decomposes waste in high controlled temperatures (pyrolysis).

How it is different and innovative:
• Unlike other bioenergy solutions, the Pyroformer is a clean energy source that ensures energy security and market growth without damaging people or the planet. This is because it does not need the agricultural land for the growth of specialist biocrops, which is a major cause of the destruction of our rainforests.
• Cleverly it avoids formulating tar, which is a common problem amongst other pyrolysis methods.
• There is also more efficient coupling with the gasifier equipment, which produces a consistent gas output, which can be mixed with biodiesel to drive combined heat and power (CHP) engines.
• When coupled with the gasifier it can process enough biomass feed to power more than 800 homes.
• The process is carbon negative because up to 25% of carbon can be saved as the by-product biochar, which can be used as a fertiliser to increase agricultural activity.

The Future: The Pyroformer and Other Methods

There are also other plans in motion, for instance, the first working example of a plasma gasification plant was built in Swindon by UK company Advanced Plasma Power, and now other plants are in development around the world. A landfill mining project is currently underway at a rubbish dump in Hasselt, Belgium to convert methane into gas that could supply power to over 60,000 homes.

Potentially the Pyroformer will be incorporated into these other methods. The solutions that the Pyroformer provide go beyond decreasing demand for landfill space but could contribute a lot to creating an eco-friendly economy, including reducing the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Techniques to convert landfill rubbish to heat and power are very advanced but could ultimately lead to a boom industry of landfill mining and the recovery of swathes of land across the UK. Not to mention a high production of renewable bioenergy in years to come.