Post State of the Union Address - Waste-to-Energy addresses all of the President's Issues on Environment

Posted on April 07, 2014
Posted By: Shlomi Palas

In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama pointed to his administration's 'all-of-the-above' energy policy as key to reducing US reliance on foreign oil while simultaneously cutting the country's carbon emissions.

"Climate change is a fact," Obama said, addressing the lawmakers he has largely sidestepped in pursuing his Climate Action Plan. "And when our children's children look us in the eye, and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say, 'Yes, we did.' The reiteration of Obama's "all-of-the-above" energy policy rankled some across the energy-environment spectrum who see the policy as a sort of cop-out - promoting energy sources both old and new as a way of sidestepping the politically thorny issue of prioritizing one over the other.

Clean-energy advocates have increasingly called on the president to ditch the agnostic approach and embrace what they say is a "best-of-the-above" energy policy. Fossil-fuel backers say "all-of-the-above" obscures a behind-the-scenes "war on coal" and resistance to new oil and gas drilling.

While advocates battle it out, one waste technology is riding the huge wave movement that is sweeping the US: Waste-to-Energy (WTE). Although President Obama's speech does not mention the booming global WTE market segment because WTE is in its very early stages of adoption in the U.S. We are seeing demand for WTE from municipalities and some of the largest companies are investing in the segment.

My own company, Blue Sphere is about to break ground on its first WTE facility in the U.S. this year. The facility is backed by $17.8 million in project financing from Caterpillar (CAT) and over $6 million from a clean-tech fund. Duke Energy (DUK) and National Grid (NGG) have signed long term power purchase agreement with Blue Sphere. WTE platform tackles and solves THREE major issues which are mentioned in Obama's speech.

  • - WTE helps reduce carbon pollution
  • - WTE contributes to conserve the land by diverting harmful organic waste to our Anaerobic Digester facility
  • - WTE contributes to Obama's target to reduce the use of fossil oil as we generate green electricity.

As a result of the President's focus and supporting budgets, we begin to see a tectonic movement in a global multi-billion industry and WTE is at the fore front of it.

Authored By:
Mr. Shlomi Palas, CEO, is a clean-tech executive and entrepreneur with a large network in private and government sectors in North and South America, Europe, China and Africa. Prior to Blue Sphere, he was a business entrepreneur in the biodiesel industry, carrying out activities in China, Brazil and Africa. Earlier, as a Senior Partner at Mitzuv, a leading management consulting firm, Mr. Palas worked in China with the IFC (International

Other Posts by: Shlomi Palas

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April, 08 2014

Brian Pratt says

I would disagree with your statement, "WTE is in its very early stages of adoption in the U.S." Since the early 1980's, municipalities and Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) in the U.S. have been investing in, and continuing to research, WTE plants. The term that was used was Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plants. The cost for processing the waste has come down some, and better technologies have been developed, but its still the largest reason for the lack of WTE solutions. It's simply cheaper to dump the waste in a large landfill. With the abundance of open land in the U.S., it's no surprise we're not moving as fast as in Europe where there is limited space to dispose of waste. The ideal solution would be developing WTE solutions and, at the same time, regulate the packing industry so that burnable or recyclable containers became predominant, thus greatly reducing waste going to landfills.

April, 15 2014

David Rossin says

A more significant long-term step would be to poliitically reopen the possibility of reprocessing used nuclear power reactor fuel to recycle the plutonium into new fuel as we intended to do until President Carter ordered us to stop on April 7, 1977. The French proceeded quite successfully with the same technology. Proliferation was a phony issue then and would still be now..

April, 15 2014

Stephen Paine says

One of the problems that waste to energy plants have is that there are numerous recycling programs that remove much of the high energy content material from the waste stream. The recycling business has become an entrenched special interest.

Having a single waste stream without the extra cost of processing recyclables makes WTE a more economically viable alternative. Unfortunately recycling is both the holy grail of environmentalists and has become a business that is profitable. However most recycling would not be profitable if there had not been so much government support, both in the form of government expenditures and government mandates.

April, 16 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Brian has it in a nutshell. It is far cheaper to put waste in holes in the ground. Almost zero capital cost and you can get a park or a golf course at the end of it. Little incentive to change. Besides burning garbage seems a terrible wast of materials to me. I do not believe there is really anything that cannot be recycled which is a far better solution than vaporizing it and shoving the garbage into the atmosphere.

Waste to energy plants are a poor solution to the problem of garbage. The best solution is not to have any garbage in the first place. We seem incapable of doing that. Perhaps we need to throw away the throw away society and put something sensible in its place.

Interesting observation that Brian makes about recycling removing most of the high heat output waste. That sounds like a good thing to me. We should do more of that.

The natural world recycles everything - there is no waste. Those natural systems have been there for millions of years - we need to learn from and emulate them not do our level best to destroy them with man made once through cycles of make it - ship it - use it - dump it. If we do not understand that we need closed cycles not open ones then sooner or later this whole place will be a garbage dump.

April, 16 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says


Recycling of nuclear materials has been possible for at least half a century. The reason it has not really taken hold is partly because of the nuclear weapons connotations and the politics surrounding that but much more to do with economics. Uranium is very cheap - currently at about $34/lb U3O8 (yellow cake) and add to that the fact that nuclear fuel is a very small component of operating a nuclear plant then you can see that there is no economic incentive to do that. Certainly not in North America. In Canada we have some of the highest grade and cheapest to mine ore bodies in the world and I doubt that we would decide not to supply the US - but we really would like to build Keystone for you :).

In France the situation is quite different. There is no uranium of any significance so that puts your nuclear industry and therefore your industrial base at the mercy of those that supply it. The French clearly have a level of discomfort with that although Areva does have joint ventures with Cameco in Canada. So from a government and political perspective I can easily see why France would have an incentive to recycle nuclear fuel.

Finally, while it is very feasible to do it, I would in no way suggest it is easy and not without risks and neither is it cheap to do either.

So to me it makes no sense to recycle used nuclear fuel in North America - but for France and Japan it makes perfect sense.

Hope that helps explain some of the thinking behind these seemingly irrational decisions.


July, 14 2014

Richard Vesel says


Recycling nuclear waste is definitely a viable path, and should be financially encouraged by the Federal Government. As a former member and standards committee member of the American Nuclear Society (1979-1984), I was actively promoting the safe recycling of reactor spent fuel, and the safe long term sequestration and storage of the true waste. Seems no one outside of a small group of people wants to touch the stuff. Politicians see it as a "third rail", probably equivalent to wanting to do harm to our Social Security program.

Also, the CANDU reactors were very well designed if I remember correctly, and I would hope that the next generation of reactors, somewhere, takes advantage of the CANDU technology.

WTE is ok where we need to reduce waste volume quickly, but it IS much better to extract the recyclable metals, glass and plastics, and then safely bury the remainder, which should be fertilized with bacteria to accelerate breakdown and methane production. This methane landfill gas should then be used for power production.

As far as it being a major contributor to our energy picture, it cannot do so currently. Even with our mountains of trash, the amount of fuel provided is tiny in comparison to our appetite for coal, gas and oil. As a future part of the energy picture, if/when coal, oil and gas usage are reduced by 90%, then WTE might play a bigger role.

Right now, WTE is a cash cow for those in the business. Why? Because they enjoy a NEGATIVE fuel cost - they get paid to take the trash in the first place, in surrogate "tipping fees", getting the same rate from garbage haulers that traditional trash dumps do...between $50 and $200 a ton! Unsorted Municipal Waste is then burned in 12-50MW power plants, which use gas to help maintain combustion of wet garbage, and reduce the volume of garbage by 95%. Ash is landfilled, with no further real use. Saw this whole process while doing a plant analysis in southern Florida.


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