Joint project "Waste management to support the energy turnaround"

The wastEturn project aimed at optimising the contribution of the Swiss waste management system to the energy turnaround. A comprehensive environmental and economic assessment of the systems was accompanied by an analysis of transition mechanisms towards sustainable waste management from a social and practical perspective.

  • Background (completed research project)

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    Waste is both a material and an energetic resource, potentially contributing to the energy strategy by direct energy recovery (i.e. waste-to-energy systems) and indirect energy saving (i.e. substitution of primary materials through recycling and avoidance of energy demand in the production of primary materials). An optimisation of waste management systems requires knowledge on mass, energy and financial flows and socially robust transition strategies.

  • Aim

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    The overarching aim of the joint project was to optimise the contribution of the Swiss waste management system to the energy turnaround, taking into account direct energy and indirect energy savings, and to develop strategies that are socially robust. The optimisation targeted the environmental as well as the economic dimension.

  • Results

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    Detailed analysis of yearly energetic potentials in Swiss waste management highlighted the energetic importance of municipal solid waste (MSW) with 64 PJ lower heating value and the chemical and pharmaceutical sector with 4 PJ of industrial waste (IW). Aiming at robust optimisation, umbrella scenarios were developed based on existing energy scenarios and complemented by “waste storylines” describing different developments of waste amounts and compositions. These waste storylines were jointly defined by project researchers and industrial and governmental experts. The MSW and IW systems were then optimised taking into account a range of boundary conditions defined within the umbrella scenarios. In all scenarios, the contribution from MSW to the energy turnaround can be increased by maximising recycling efforts for most fractions. In some scenarios, the indirect energy contribution of MSW management could even be doubled compared to 2012. Indirect energy savings increased with the quality of collected materials, enabling the substitution of high-impact primary materials. This finding highlighted the importance of clean source separation and advanced recycling processes. The optimisation yielded financial trade-offs, as increased recycling could also cause increased costs, which have to be covered by higher revenues for recovered energy and materials, fees or taxes. Higher energy and material revenues may, depending on future market prices, be able to compensate the recycling costs, leading to a financially self-sustaining recycling industry. In addition, the energetic optimisation of IW management in Switzerland showed the possibility of increased utilisation of solvents and mother liquors as alternative fuels (+8%). Increasing local thermal utilisation of waste also decreases transport of hazardous chemicals. The potential contribution of waste-to-energy systems to the energy turnaround was found to depend significantly on future waste levels and compositions.

  • Relevance

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    Relevance for research

    The methodology to develop umbrella scenarios can be applied to other geographical regions or material flows. Furthermore, the combined framework of material flow analysis, life cycle assessment and costing and mathematical optimisation, using the umbrella scenarios as a basis to model a range of background conditions, can serve as a prototype for the comprehensive analysis and improvement of other resource and waste management systems.

    Relevance for practice

    This joint project developed strategies to optimise the contribution of the waste management system to the energy turnaround, such as increased recycling and increased thermal treatment of liquid industrial waste. Furthermore, costs and revenues of existing and new strategies were estimated. The analysis of all actors in the system further guides the development of implementation mechanisms and informs policy-makers and industrial experts.

  • Original title

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    Sustainable waste and resource management to support the energy turnaround (wastEturn)

  • Sub-projects

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    The joint project consists of four research projects

    Optimising the energy recovery and the sustainability of Swiss municipal solid waste management External Link Icon

    • Prof. Stefanie Hellweg, Institut für Umweltingenieurwissenschaften, ETH Zürich

    Optimisation of industrial waste-to-energy (WtE) and resource recovery systems External Link Icon

    • Prof. Konrad Hungerbühler, Institut für Chemie- und Bioingenieurwissenschaften, ETH Zürich; Dr. Stavros Papadokonstantakis, Dr. Elisabet Capon

    Economic Assessment of Industrial and Municipal Waste Treatment Options and Waste-to-Energy (WtE) Systems External Link Icon

    • Prof. Christoph Hugi, Institut für Ecopreneurship, Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz, Muttenz

    Initiating Transitions of Swiss Municipal Solid Waste Management (InTraWaste) External Link Icon

    • Prof. Michael Stauffacher, Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zürich