The Future of Trash is Fuel

The Future of Trash is Fuel

The world’s population creates an estimated 2.6 trillion pounds of garbage every year. The United States alone produced 251 million tons in 2012, making it the largest trash producer that year.

Where does all that garbage go?

From the trash can in your kitchen to the end of its lifecycle, garbage ultimately ends up in a number of different places, including landfills, incinerators, recycling centers or as pollution in our oceans and communities.

Recycling has helped to reduce landfill capacity levels, but what if there was a way to further reduce the amount of trash that’s left behind?

Abengoa’s newest technology, waste to biofuels (W2B), will alter the garbage lifecycle as we know it. It’s a simple concept: turning waste into biofuels—but the process is pretty sophisticated.

Based on first- and second-generation cellulosic ethanol production, W2B takes municipal solid waste and processes it as a feedstock to create ethanol fuel. The organic materials in municipal solid waste—such as fruit peels and other fibrous foods—contain cellulose that can be converted into alcohol (in this case, ethanol).

Abengoa’s innovative process, which is currently being tested at a demonstration facility in Salamanca, Spain, takes municipal solid waste and sorts it into one of three groups: The cellulose-dense organic material is separated for W2B ethanol production, recyclable items are sent for recycling, and the remaining waste is sent to landfills. In total, the technology has the ability to reduce landfill waste more than 75 percent. If widely adopted, the process will not only reduce landfill disposal, but also improve recycling capacity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With the continuing trend of population growth, if no action is taken to mitigate the rate at which we produce trash, our landfills will continue to expand and morph into greater and greater environmental and municipal hazards. This innovative technological approach of turning waste into biofuels has the potential to be a solution to the world’s waste problem—and help shape the way in which cities grow and develop.