Waste is a problem as old as time; what we throw away, however, has changed in composition and toxicity over the centuries. Now, it’s becoming an emerging source of energy, and the future of waste as a power source is bigger than you think.
While we haven’t dipped into the world of waste-to-energy (WTE) yet, we can certainly appreciate the vast potential of an industry that’s already a proven investment. This new market is expected to be worth $3.5 billion by 2024 and is growing at roughly 6% annually. Right now, the industry has found its prime support in Asia, but as more business and countries get behind WTE, you can expect to see it find a foothold in locations around the globe.
It’s important to note that WTE isn’t traditional incineration. We’re talking about a much greener and more sustainable way, with big advantages in carbon emission reduction. Japan leads the WTE market with a full 70% of its municipal solid waste being processed. China is hot on Japan’s heels, pushed by the overwhelming energy demands of its population and manufacturing footprint. It is in China that the world’s largest WTE facility will open in 2024, with Shenzhen scheduled to open a plant that can process over 5,000 tons of trash. This will play a large role in pushing China past its current fourth-place position in WTE and possibly top Japan by the middle of the next decade.
Europe is riding the wave, too. WTE sites in Turkey, Italy, and Russia are all in the works, ranging from the poultry to steel industries. WTE offers applications in countless areas, but it’s a technology that the United States seems to be late to supporting. WTE facilities are present in 20 states, many focused in the Northeast, Florida, and Minnesota. With 71 sites in 2015, the US is being outpaced by countries like China, who have plans for over 300 dedicated WTE sites by 2022.
Like all renewable and alternative energy sources, WTE is one piece in a much larger, more complex puzzle. The real future of energy and sustainability lies in the adaptation of a number of energy resources, built to suit specific applications that are unique to climate, geography, industry, and load.