Written by Zoltan Kish, Ph.D. CEO &CTO, Quasar ScienceTech
Contaminated and mixed waste products recycling in the traditional way have difficulties and limitations. Without effective recycling, most of the waste is sent to landfills, and the energy in waste is essentially lost, producing mountains of trash, emitting harmful pollutants into our air, water and soil and creating enormous environmental problems. There is a requirement for an innovative approach in produced waste management. In a circular economy, the purpose of recycling is to convert waste into forms retaining as high value as possible. Chemical recycling based on effective waste conversion technologies can provide a fundamental shift in the way of produced waste handling in a circular economy. The cost-effective steam gasification technology is suitable for contaminated and mixed waste chemical recycling into hydrogen and other high- value sustainable products. As a cost-effective chemical recycling process, the waste steam gasification technology can provide a comprehensive and innovative solution to the complex problem of waste management, waste diversion from landfills, climate change mitigation, and circular and hydrogen economy development.
Figure 1. A Circular and Hydrogen Economy Development via Waste Chemical Recycling.
The increasing amount of waste is one of the most challenging problems facing the world. Globally, more than 2.12 billion tons of garbage every year are produced. Contaminated and mixed waste products (e.g., plastics, paper, MSW, industrial and medical waste) are challenging to recycle in the traditional way – mechanical/physical processing. Especially, traditional plastic waste recycling has difficulties and limitations. Mechanical sorting is not effective for mixed plastic waste. Thousands of different types of plastic are manufactured by combinations of different resin types, dyes, and additives. Even carefully selected plastic materials can only be recycled limited times into similar products since they degrade every time after reheating. Therefore, most plastic products are downcycled into items of reduced value, such as textiles, toys or construction materials, which eventually end up in landfills and water resources, creating tremendous environmental problems.
Shifting the recycling program to the producer’s responsibility and banning single-use plastics will not solve the increasing waste problems. It needs to be recognized that shifting the recycling program to the producer responsibility by the government will further reduce plastic waste recycling and increase plastic pollution. Producers of packaging are not in the business of waste management. Additionally, most plastic materials are imported, and foreign countries will be challenging to force recycling plastic waste. The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program does not create stability in waste recycling. If currently, Canada recycles just 9 percent of its plastics, after the blue box program transition to the responsibility of producers, the waste (including plastics) recycling will be further reduced.
Without more effective and sustainable ways to manage produced waste, more and more trash will end up in landfills polluting our land, water, and air. A recent survey by researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and leak-detection firm Scientific Aviation found that so-called “super-emitter” landfills accounted for 43 percent of the measured emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane – outpacing the fossil-fuel and agricultural sectors. At the same time, Canada, like many countries worldwide, is running out of landfill space. As Mike Chopowick, CEO at Ontario Waste Management Association, wrote in his article – Ontario’s garbage crisis is urgent, “Every bag of garbage we throw out brings us one step closer to running out of landfill space. Our landfill capacity deadline of 2032 will arrive even sooner — by 2028, should the US government decide to close the border to Ontario’s garbage.” Currently, 30% of Ontario’s waste (~3 million tonnes/year) has been shipped by 100,000 semi-truck trailer loads travelling each year to Michigan, creating an enormous amount of pollution.
Regrettably, Canada and other G7 countries are planning to use waste-to-energy incineration as part of a plastic pollution solution. However, incineration is a very costly and inefficient way to convert waste into energy. The waste combustion process also generates highly toxic and carcinogenic pollutants (e.g., noxious oxides, furans and dioxins). In addition to the current waste problems, the produced waste has further increased in the health care, hospitality, and food sectors due to this COVID-19 pandemic. Although the waste accumulation problem is growing, the waste management industry is moving toward a disaster.
Fundamental Shift Requirements in the Waste Management
We need a fundamental shift in the way of produced waste handling. Without more effective and sustainable ways to manage produced waste, more and more trash will end up in landfills polluting our land, water and air, and the Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 will be challenging to meet. The circular economy is not only based on simple reusing waste products. The purpose of recycling is to redesign and convert waste into forms
retaining as high value as possible in a circular economy. There is a requirement for a new and innovative approach in the development of a solution for waste management challenges, waste recycling, plastic waste pollution reduction and a working circular economy. In a circular economy, chemical recycling based on effective waste conversion technologies can play a pivotal role in waste conversion into usable materials and clean energy. Chemical recycling of waste should be defined beyond the depolarization of plastic materials. Whereas, “Chemical Recycling” of waste can be defined as a chemical process converting waste materials into new usable products with desirable properties and composition for required applications.
The Government’s Viewpoints
The governments and producers have expressed interest in the chemical recycling of waste as an effective solution to the waste problem and a profitable business. Governments worldwide have committed to protecting and conserving our air, land, and water, reducing waste, and increasing the resilience to climate change. Furthermore, it has been recognized that waste diversion from landfills and recovering valuable resources are an essential part of meeting the greenhouse gas emission reduction, which can be achieved by incorporating chemical recycling and emerging technologies into waste management practices. In 2019 Illinois and Ohio, like many other US states, had passed new laws making it easier to build chemical recycling facilities, regulating them as recycling operations rather than waste processing. The Canadian Government could also consider this new approach using Chemical Recycling in waste management as recycling operations.
Chemical recycling based on effective waste conversion technologies is a comprehensive and innovative solution to the complex problems of waste diversion from landfills and recycling into usable products, greenhouse gas emission reduction, climate change mitigation, which aligns with the many government documents, such as Zero Plastic Waste: Canada’s actions, Net-Zero Emissions by 2050, Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Markets and Waste, Waste-Free Ontario Act, Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario Building the Circular Economy and Governments pursue chemical recycling.
The recently proposed hydrogen strategy globally (e.g., Hydrogen Strategy for Canada, Ontario Low- Carbon Hydrogen Strategy, Hydrogen Study: International H2 Strategies, Hydrogen Strategy in the USA, and A Hydrogen Strategy for a Climate-Neutral Europe) lays out an ambitious framework for actions that will cement hydrogen as a tool to achieve a speedy economic recovery while also helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and position many countries in clean and renewable fuels.
We have a tremendous business opportunity to convert waste into usable sustainable products using chemical recycling. According to a market study report prepared by Market Insights Reports, the smart waste management market was valued at $1.41 billion (USD) in 2018 and is expected to reach $5.19 billion by 2024, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.68%, during the forecast period of 2019- 2024. Furthermore, a comprehensive report – Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Markets and Waste was conducted by Deloitte and Cheminfo Services Inc. for Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC). The study concludes that landfilling 87% of plastic waste represents a $7.8 billion lost opportunity. By 2030, it is estimated that Canada’s lost opportunity related to unrecovered plastics could rise to CA$11.1 billion under a business-as-usual scenario following the same end uses and value recovery performance as the current baseline. It was emphasized that achieving 90 percent plastic waste recovery will require significant investment in chemical recycling technologies to help address mixed plastics treatment on a large scale. The report concluded that zero plastic waste cannot be achieved without concurrent, strategic interventions by government, industry stakeholders and the public across each stage of the plastic lifecycle and targeted at sectors.
The requirement for an effective solution to the waste problem and recycling waste into high-value sustainable products is an opportunity to introduce a cost-effective and profitable recycling business based on chemical recycling using advanced and effective waste recycling technologies.
The environmental impact of waste can be minimized by proper waste management using advanced waste conversion technologies. Chemical recycling as waste recycling based on effective waste conversion technology is essential for a working circular economy. Garbage can be converted into high-value products using advanced and cost-effective waste conversion technologies. Perspectives on different waste conversion technologies are provided in the article – “Perspectives on Waste-to-Energy Technologies“.
Chemical Recycling should be based on reliable and cost-effective waste conversion technologies. Therefore, it is very important to do technical due diligence before investing and applying new technology to prevent wasting time and money. Regrettably, investors often do not take the time to evaluate the proposed technology, and, therefore, the underlying scientific/technological basis of the business is often neglected in the CleanTech sectors. As a result of this, enormous and overpriced facilities were built, producing not profitable products. Therefore, in addition to financial data and management of the company, the underlying scientific/technology base of the applied technology should be considered. Science is supposed to be an essential pillar of a successful and sustainable business. Consequently, it is vital to properly establish the underlying scientific/technological base for applied technologies to build a successful waste conversion plant. The success of waste conversion technology applications depends on the following main factors:
- The underlying scientific/technological basis of the waste conversion
- Intellectual property development
- Implementation of effective cleaning/scrubbing system
- Process modelling of waste conversion
- Mass & Energy balance modelling of waste conversion
- Proper engineering design
- Financial modelling based on Mass & Energy balance
- Waste feedstock evaluation and availability
- Waste feedstock adequate preparation
- Waste energy conversion efficiency
- Quantity and quality of the produced products
- Applications of the products
- Market requirement for the products
- Cost-effectiveness of the project
The objective is to properly establish the underlying scientific/technology base of the applied technology in order to save money and time, and effectively contribute to the comprehensive and innovative solution for the complex problem of waste accumulation problems.
In the past years at Quasar ScienceTech, based on the above requirements, the steam gasification technology as a cost-effective chemical recycling process has been further developed to recycle a variety of waste feedstocks (e.g., plastics, MSW, biomass, industrial and medical waste) into high-value usable products, such as hydrogen, clean energy, fuels and chemicals. The main focus has been to increase the cost-effectiveness of waste recycling into high-value usable products, such as hydrogen. The developed advanced clean technology – waste steam gasification has competitive advantages over currently used hydrogen production and waste management technologies. In comparison, an incineration plant with a similar waste processing capability costs 2-3 times more without producing high-value products; just sensible heat of the produced flue gas can be utilized. On the other hand, the steam gasification technology, as a cost-effective chemical recycling process, eliminates pollution created by incineration and satisfies the purpose of recycling in a circular economy, converting waste into forms retaining as high value as possible in a circular economy.
The developed steam gasification technology can provide an innovative and cost-effective solution to two main problems: diverting waste from landfills to protect our environment and recycling waste into clean energy and high-value products. The proposed solution is based on well-established technology – waste steam gasification, which was tested and developed at a pre-commercial waste conversion facility for over five years, where I was the director of Research & Development. Some data from the pilot plant testing were published at the International Solid Waste Association World Congress 2013 in Vienna.
The steam gasification technology represents a potential alternative to the traditional treatments of waste feedstocks (e.g., plastic, biomass, MSW, sewage sludge, medical and industrial waste). The developed technology is based on a steam gasification process in combination with a reliable scrubbing/cleaning system to produce high-quality syngas, which contains no noxious oxides and higher hydrogen concentration than products produced by traditional gasification. The chemistry is different due to the high concentration of steam as a reactant and the total exclusion of air and, therefore, oxygen from the steam reformation process. The proposed technology using an indirectly heated kiln with a reliable and effective scrubbing/cleaning system can process contaminated and mixed waste materials without the waste feedstock sorting requirement. Produced high-quality syngas and residual waste heat can be used to power combined cycle gas turbines, reciprocating gas engines for the generation of electricity and production hydrogen from waste. Besides, because of the high hydrogen to carbon monoxide ratio of the produced syngas, the technology can be coupled with a Gas-to-Liquids technology (e.g., based on the Fischer – Tropsch process) to produce higher- value liquid synthetic fuels and chemicals.
The steam gasification technology, as a cost-effective chemical recycling process, is suitable for recycling contaminated and mixed waste materials into hydrogen and other high-value products, and preventing contamination of our environment. In response to the proposed hydrogen strategies, I have posted an article
– “Hydrogen from Waste” on LinkedIn. The paper was also published in the Advanced Waste Solution magazine as “Hydrogen from Waste: Challenges, Government Actions, and Technologies.” My objective is to bring attention to the fact that, besides conventional hydrogen production, low-carbon hydrogen can be produced from waste using advanced steam gasification technologies. As a cost-effective chemical recycling process, the steam gasification technology satisfies the purpose of recycling – converting waste into forms retaining as high value as possible in a circular economy. At the current stage of the market demand, the application of steam gasification for waste processing into hydrogen can provide a cost-effective solution for waste accumulation problems and diversion from landfills. The waste diversion from landfills and recycling into hydrogen can protect the environment from pollutions and save natural resources by incorporating chemical recycling based on the waste steam reformation technology into waste management practices.
The government could develop and introduce new policies/regulations that promote the implementation of chemical recycling based on advanced waste conversion technologies to effectively divert waste from landfills and recycle it into clean energy and high-value sustainable products. Without the government’s support and endorsement for chemical recycling as part of the circular economy, municipalities and private sectors are not in a position to move forward with implementing waste conversion technologies based on chemical recycling. The government could also consider the new approach using Chemical Recycling in waste management as recycling operations rather than waste processing to approve and build faster and easier chemical recycling facilities.
In addition, the government could focus more on providing support (e.g., grants) to the development of advanced waste conversion technologies based on chemical recycling to build cost-effective waste recycling facilities. For example, Hydrogen Strategy for Canada and Ontario Low-Carbon Hydrogen Strategy can include the support for advanced technology development of cost-effective hydrogen production from waste.
The developed cost-effective waste steam gasification technology as a chemical recycling process can provide a comprehensive and innovative solution to the complex problems of waste management, divert waste (including plastic waste) from landfills and water resources, recycle waste into hydrogen and other high-value usable products, develop Canada’s first hydrogen strategy, reduce depletion of natural resources, mitigate climate change, and protect our environment. Based on market demand, low-carbon hydrogen production from waste is one the most cost-effective solutions for waste diversion from landfills. Chemical recycling based on the cost-effective steam gasification technology can provide a fundamental shift in the way of waste handling in a circular economy. Waste conversion into hydrogen can become a base of the hydrogen and circular economy.
The waste diversion from landfills and recycling it into sustainable products can significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by incorporating chemical recycling based on the proposed waste steam reformation technology into waste management practices. The produced hydrogen from waste diverted from landfills can be considered low-carbon hydrogen due to the prevention of methane and another GHG release from landfills, which can be considered significantly more potent GHG than CO2. Furthermore, if the processing waste is renewable feedstocks (e.g., agricultural, forest or food waste), the produced hydrogen can be considered green, and the process can be regarded as carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative if the produced CO2 is captured and utilized (e.g., in greenhouses). Hydrogen production from waste is a cost- effective solution for waste diversion from landfills. Green hydrogen can be a base feedstock for green chemical production, such as green ammonia. The renewable content of MSW is in the range of 30% – 40%. Therefore, hydrogen produced from MSW can be considered low-carbon hydrogen and partially green. The green and low-carbon hydrogen produced from waste hold the potential to decarbonize many sectors of our economy, including resource extraction, freight, transportation, power generation, manufacturing, oil refinery, and the production of steel, chemicals, and cement.
With the government’s support, the waste steam gasification technology can be brought to the market as an industrial waste processing plant recycling waste into high-value sustainable products, such as hydrogen, chemicals, and clean energy. The waste processing plants will be made in modules and delivered anywhere in the world. The proposed waste recycling into hydrogen and other sustainable products is an opportunity for profitable businesses and making a positive impact on the protection of our environment by introducing a cost-effective waste steam gasification technology to solve the world’s biggest problem – enormous waste accumulation and production of hydrogen from waste. The hydrogen production from waste can create many highly skilled jobs in the CleanTech and the waste management sectors and opportunities to export Canadian technologies around the Globe.
A circular and hydrogen economy can be developed based on advanced waste conversion technologies, as waste chemical recycling into hydrogen and other high-value sustainable products. The cost-effective steam gasification technology, as a chemical recycling process, is suitable for contaminated and mixed waste materials recycling into high-value usable products, such as hydrogen, electricity, liquid synthetic fuels, and chemicals. Waste recycling into hydrogen is a cost-effective solution for waste accumulation problems and diversion from landfills. As a cost-effective chemical recycling process, the steam gasification technology satisfies the purpose of recycling – converting waste into forms retaining as high value as possible in a circular economy. Therefore, chemical recycling can provide a comprehensive and innovative solution to the complex problem of waste management and the circular and hydrogen economy development. The proposed waste steam gasification technology, as a chemical recycling of waste, has competitive advantages with currently used waste management methods/technologies and hydrogen production. The waste diversion from landfills and recycling it into sustainable products can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move forward to Net-Zero emission economy by incorporating chemical recycling based on the proposed waste steam reformation technology into waste management practices. With the right approach, Canada can be a front-runner in leading sustainable waste management and the circular and hydrogen economy establishment.
Some articles on the topics of the current waste problem, a circular economy, chemical recycling, advanced materials, perspectives on different waste conversion technologies and advantages of the steam gasification technology for advanced waste management can be downloaded from the following websites:
About the Author
Dr. Zoltan Kish has a Ph.D. in Chemistry with over 25 years of diverse industrial and academic experience and contributed to more than 70 scientific publications, inventions, and a book. He has developed and managed complex research and development programs related to alternative/renewable energy, clean technologies, waste conversion technologies, sustainability, and advanced materials applications, such as solar energy technology, ceramic engine & cutting tool components, materials processing, and electronics.