Data Summary of Municipal Solid Waste Management Alternatives. Volume 1: Report Text Page: 87 of 216
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Combustion is the second most widely used MSW technology, as measured by tons of MSW
processed. Steam and/or electricity is generated for use by most of the plants. Two different
approaches to MSW combustion can be used: mass burning of the MSW and preparation and
combustion of refuse-derived fuels. They differ in the extent of pretreatment of the MSW before
combustion and in the design and operation of the furnaces.
The rest of this section is divided into four major subsections. The next section discusses
issues common to both mass burning and RDF direct firing: regulations and limitations on cost
data. The next two subsections discuss each technology individually. The last subsection
identifies data gaps and research needs for both technologies.
Modern combustion facilities date from the late 1970s, after the Clean Air Act required
effective pollution control equipment on each plant. This section covers units that have begun
operation since the Clean Air Act was passed.
The popularity of combustion as part of MSW management strategies also increased as a
result of the perceived energy crises of the late 1970s. Both mass burning and RDF combustion
produce energy that can replace consumption of fossil fuels. The magnitude of MSW's potential
contribution to the nation's energy supplies is indicated by the following estimate: Conversion
of all 180 million tons of U.S. MSW to electricity by direct combustion would supply about 3%
of annual U.S. electricity needs.* This comparison is made only for a sense of proportion.
Both mass burning and RDF can be effectively combined with various other MSW
management approaches. Because preprocessing is minimal in most mass burn plants, the
opportunity for separation of materials for possible recycling is smaller than it is in an RDF
plant, but it is equal to that with landfilling. Some materials separation occurs when the ash is
processed for magnetic metal recovery. Curbside collection of recyclables can be effectively
integrated with either mass burning or RDF. An increasing number of mass burn plants are
incorporating mixed waste separation steps in which the MSW is processed for materials
recovery before combustion. RDF can be densified into pellets before firing or cofiring, and it
can be used as feed for anaerobic digestion, MSW composting, and gasification/pyrolysis.
COMMON ISSUES FOR MASS BURN AND RDF
Pollution Control, New Source Performance Standards for Combustors, and Effects of the
Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990
A newly constructed mass burning facility will be required to meet New Source Perform-
ance Standards (NSPS) for municipal waste combustors (MWCs) that have been published in the
Code of Federal Regulations (CFR, 1991a). These requirements specify the maximum emission
levels, as shown in Table 5.1, for all facilities that process more than 250 tons per day.
* In 1990, the United States burned 726 million tons of coal for electricity generation; that coal supplied about 55%
of the nation's electricity needs (DOE, 1991); also see Appendix B, page B-33.
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SRI International. Data Summary of Municipal Solid Waste Management Alternatives. Volume 1: Report Text, report, October 1992; Golden, Colorado. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1310776/m1/87/: accessed May 24, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.