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New Approach to Calculate Potential Renewable Energy from Waste Material

Cranfield University has developed a new approach for calculating the potential renewable energy derived from waste material, prior to incineration, which could save time and money for the energy and waste industries.

The Government’s Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) scheme places an obligation on UK electricity suppliers to demonstrate the biomass content, or fraction, of mixed fuels and offers incentives for sourcing an increasing proportion of the electricity they supply to customers from renewable sources.

The current process for calculating the renewable (or ‘biogenic’) content of waste requires either manual sorting of waste into individual components, which is extremely time consuming and carries issues regarding labour costs and health and safety concerns, or analysis of the flue gas using specialist equipment for carbon dating, which is costly and can only be calculated retrospectively.

This new method uses an image analysis tool alongside microwave analysis. When placed above a conveyor belt in a waste treatment facility, it is able to accurately determine the composition of a mixed waste material and subsequently calculate how much renewable energy is derived from each individual component in the waste stream.

Dr Stuart Wagland, Lecturer in Renewable Energy from Waste at Cranfield University, commented: “The system enables greater operator control over the fuels, allowing for blending to optimise the biogenic (renewable) content and the overall calorific value, or energy released on combustion.”

As well as saving time and money for the waste industry, the tool will enable energy suppliers to accurately prove the amount of biogenic material - waste made up of materials produced by living organisms or biological processes such as paper, certain textiles and food waste - in each load of mixed waste materials that will produce renewable energy through combustion.

It is thought that some 200m tonnes of waste produced each year in England alone could be converted to energy with the potential to supply up to 4% of the UK’s electricity and water heating needs.

The research has attracted interest in the private sector, and work is now being planned, in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory, to further develop the tools and test them with a number of feedstocks in a range of waste handling facilities.

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