Carbon in global waste and wastewater flows – its potential as energy source under alternative future waste management regimes

Gómez-Sanabria, Adriana; Höglund-Isaksson, Lena; Rafaj, Peter; Schöpp, Wolfgang

This study provides a quantification of the maximum energy that can be generated from global waste and wastewater sectors in the timeframe to 2050, as well as of the potential limitations introduced by different future waste and wastewater management regimes. Results show that considerable amounts of carbon are currently stored in waste materials without being recovered for recycling or made available for energy generation. Future levels of energy recovery when maintaining current states of waste and wastewater management systems are contrasted with those that can be attained under a circular system identified here as a system with successful implementation of food and plastic waste reduction policies, maximum recycling rates of all different types of waste streams, and once the recycling capacity is exhausted, incineration of remaining materials to produce energy. Moreover, biogas is assumed to be produced from anaerobic co-digestion of food and garden wastes, animal manure, and anaerobically treated wastewater. Finally, we explore the limits for energy generation from waste and wastewater sources should the efficiency of energy recovery be pushed further through development of existing technology. We find that global implementation of such an ideal system could increase the relative contribution of waste and wastewater sources to global energy demand from 2 % to 9 % by 2040, corresponding to a maximum energy potential of 64 EJ per year. This would however require widespread adoption of policies and infrastructure that stimulate and allow for large-scale waste prevention and separation, as well as highly advanced treatment processes. Giving priority to such efforts would enable circularity of the waste-energy system.

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Gómez-Sanabria, Adriana / Höglund-Isaksson, Lena / Rafaj, Peter / et al: Carbon in global waste and wastewater flows – its potential as energy source under alternative future waste management regimes. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Adriana Gómez-Sanabria et al.

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