IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

10.4.3 Incineration and other thermal processes for waste-to-energy

These processes include incineration with and without energy recovery, production of refuse-derived fuel (RDF), and industrial co-combustion (including cement kilns: see Onuma et al., 2004 and Section 7.3.3). Incineration reduces the mass of waste and can offset fossil-fuel use; in addition, GHG emissions are avoided, except for the small contribution from fossil carbon (Consonni et al., 2005). Incineration has been widely applied in many developed countries, especially those with limited space for landfilling such as Japan and many European countries. Globally, about 130 million tonnes of waste are annually combusted in >600 plants in 35 countries (Themelis, 2003).

Waste incinerators have been extensively used for more than 20 years with increasingly stringent emission standards in Japan, the EU, the US and other countries. Mass burning is relatively expensive and, depending on plant scale and flue-gas treatment, currently ranges from about 95–150 €/t waste (87–140 US$/t) (Faaij et al., 1998; EIPPC Bureau, 2006). Waste-to-energy plants can also produce useful heat or electricity, which improves process economics. Japanese incinerators have routinely implemented energy recovery or power generation (Japan Ministry of the Environment, 2006). In northern Europe, urban incinerators have historically supplied fuel for district heating of residential and commercial buildings. Starting in the 1980s, large waste incinerators with stringent emission standards have been widely deployed in Germany, the Netherlands and other European countries. Typically such plants have a capacity of about 1 Mt waste/yr, moving grate boilers (which allow mass burning of waste with diverse properties), low steam pressures and temperatures (to avoid corrosion) and extensive flue gas cleaning to conform with EU Directive 2000/76/EC. In 2002, European incinerators for waste-to-energy generated 41 million GJ electrical energy and 110 million GJ thermal energy (Themelis, 2003). Typical electrical efficiencies are 15% to >20% with more efficient designs becoming available. In recent years, more advanced combustion concepts have penetrated the market, including fluidized bed technology.