As the global population grows and economies become increasingly industrialized, energy requirements are increasing. To explore the potential for energy recovery from organic waste to help meet these demands, a paper has been published in Energies.
Study: Material and Energy Recovery from the Final Disposal of Organic Waste [online] Energies 14(24) | mdpi.com. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/14/24/8459/htm
Meeting a Changing World’s Energy Needs
The explosion in human population seen since the Industrial Revolution, and especially within the last century, has created a huge demand for energy to power society. The main source of energy for billions of people worldwide is fossil fuels, which causes huge environmental damage and is driving climate change, leading to a warming planet.
Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are 31.5 Gt, despite the fall in emissions during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the average annual CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was 412.5 parts per million. This is 50% higher than when the Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century.
Because of the wealth of evidence that human activity is causing untold environmental destruction, international targets have been put in place to limit global temperature rises to 2oC by 2050. Governments have agreed to phase out fossil fuels by that year and aim to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Further commitments have been made to drastically reduce emissions by 2030.
The main strategy to achieve net-zero carbon emissions and limit global temperature rise is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and wave power. Additional strategies such as afforestation and carbon capture technologies have been widely explored in recent years. Tackling this vital issue will take innovative solutions.
Energy harvesting and generation is not the only sector that relies on fossil fuels. The automotive industry has historically been one of the main consumers of petrochemicals to power vehicles. In arid nations, drinking water is produced using fossil fuels as an energy source. Plastics, which are one of the main sources of environmentally harmful waste, are overwhelmingly manufactured using petrochemicals in fossil fuel-intensive processes.
Another problem that society faces is food waste. The food industry produces far more food than is needed for consumption, leading to vast amounts of it being disposed of in landfill sites. Plastic packaging, which is non-biodegradable, compounds the issue. Consumer patterns of use lead to growing challenges with domestic food waste. Energy use for refrigeration adds to the problem with sustainability.
All these issues are part of a huge puzzle: how does society reduce its environmental impact and fossil fuel use in line with internationally agreed targets on reducing carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050?
Using Organic Waste to Generate Energy
There may be a relatively simple solution to the issues with both unsustainable energy production and food waste: Using biomass to generate power. This is the focus of the special issue published in Energies.
The energy that the sun provides is approximately 600 EJ/a, 10,000 times the current global energy needs, and much of it accumulates in biomass. Organic waste-to-energy conversion could potentially provide 5% of all global energy needs, which whilst it may not seem like a significant contribution, would additionally reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills. Whilst this may be difficult to realize due to the constraints of modern living habits, the author behind the paper states there is a moral obligation to value biomass waste as a resource.
The study presents several papers in the field which have made important contributions to understanding the scale of the issue and providing innovative solutions that will help to inform future research directions. Papers included in the special issue have been authored by researchers from different countries, including Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Jordan, Russia, and Poland, reflecting the global attention on the issue.
The papers highlighted in the study cover such diverse areas as the effect of valorization on sewage sludge, organic waste policies in Albania, the economic and environmental aspects of biomethane production, the circular economy, and a case study of water produced by the purification of municipal wastewater. The papers have addressed several issues in the field and critically evaluated multiple technologies.
The world needs to urgently move away from fossil fuels if global temperatures are to be kept to 2oC. This will take innovative approaches across a range of scientific disciplines and industrial sectors, at all levels of society. The special issue published in Energies has presented a perspective on the state of current research into using biomass waste to produce energy, treating it as a vital resource rather than disposing of it in landfills, as is currently done globally.
Di Giacomo, D (2021) Material and Energy Recovery from the Final Disposal of Organic Waste [online] Energies 14(24) | mdpi.com. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/14/24/8459/htm