Clean Energy in United States Not Nearly Trashy Enough


It turns out that Europe has way trashier renewable energy than the United States. Elisabeth Rosenthal has an illuminating piece in the Times today that takes stock of Europe's many waste-to-energy plants, which efficiently turn garbage into energy. The plants employ advanced pollution reduction techniques, and the result is surprisingly clean energy. There are over 400 such plants across Europe, with especially high concentrations in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. And the US? A scant 87 plants--almost all of which are over 15 years old. We've written a lot about the potential of waste-to-energy here at TreeHugger, and it's good to see the issue raised on the front page of the Times.

Just soak in this description of one such waste-to-energy plant: it's "a vast energy plant that burns thousands of tons of household garbage and industrial waste, round the clock. The Vestforbraending plant in Copenhagen, the largest of the 29 waste-to-energy plants in Denmark."

According to Rosenthal, their use has not only reduced energy costs, but has been a major boon environmentally as well:

Far cleaner than conventional incinerators, this new type of plant converts local trash into heat and electricity. Dozens of filters catch pollutants, from mercury to dioxin, that would have emerged from its smokestack only a decade ago.
The use of such plants has drastically reduced the use of landfills and has slashed carbon emissions: these plants "run so cleanly that many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration." Impressive indeed.

waste energy plant

Waste to energy plant in Denmark. Photo via the NY Times

Now, let's look at the state of affairs in the good ol' US of A:

By contrast, no new waste-to-energy plants are being planned or built in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency says -- even though the federal government and 24 states now classify waste that is burned this way for energy as a renewable fuel, in many cases eligible for subsidies ... Instead, distant landfills remain the end point for most of the nation's trash. New York City alone sends 10,500 tons of residential waste each day to landfills in places like Ohio and South Carolina.
Clearly, especially considering that waste-to-energy is largely eligible for subsidies, there's a distinct opportunity for larger scale deployment in the US. And some projects are indeed on the way. In other words, the United States could really get a little trashier with its clean energy.

More on Waste-to-Energy
US's First Plasma Gasification Waste-to-Energy Plant Online by 2011
120 kW 'Portable' Commercial Waste-to-Energy Generator Introduced ...

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