Waste-integrated biorefineries : A path towards efficient utilization of waste

Abstract: Waste-management systems have progressed from landfilling and dumping to waste prevention, recycling and resource recovery. In state-of-the-art waste-management industries, waste is separated into various fractions and treated with suitable processes. The non-recyclable organic fraction of waste can be incinerated for combined heat and power (CHP) production, while biodegradable waste can be converted to biomethane through the anaerobic digestion (AD) process. Thermochemical processes such as gasification and pyrolysis provide alternative methods for treating various fractions of waste. This thesis aims to design energy-efficient and cost-effective waste-integrated biorefineries by integrating thermochemical processing of waste with existing WtE technologies.A system analysis of five process-integration case studies have been performed. The first case assesses the limitations and operational limits of thermochemical processes retrofitted in an existing waste-based CHP plant. The second and third case studies evaluate the feasibility of the current waste-based CHP plant to shift from cogeneration to polygeneration of biofuels, heat and power. In the fourth case study, a new process configuration is presented that couples AD of biodegradable waste with pyrolysis of lignocellulosic waste. The last case deals with the handling of digested sludge from WWTPs by the integration of thermochemical processes.The findings suggest that waste-integrated biorefineries can utilize infrastructure and products from existing waste industries through process integration and improve the overall process efficiencies and economics. Existing waste-based CHP plants can provide excess heat for integrated thermochemical processes; however, the modifications required are different for different gasifiers and pyrolyzers. Similarly, refuse-derived fuel (RDF) — processed from municipal solid waste (MSW) — can be utilized for production of various biofuels alongside heat and power without disturbing the operation of the CHP. But biomethane and dimethyl ether (DME) showed higher process feasibility than methanol and drop-in biofuels.The integration of pyrolysis with the AD process can almost double biomethane production compared with a standalone AD process, increasing efficiency to 67% from 52%. The integration is an attractive investment when off-site — rather than on-site — integration of pyrolysis and AD is considered.Drying of sludge digestate from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) is a bottleneck for its post-processing by thermochemical processes. However, waste heat from the existing CHP plant can be utilized for drying of sludge, which can also replace some of the boiler feed through co-incineration with waste biomass.The economic performance of waste-integrated biorefineries will depend on the volatility of market conditions. Finally, assessment of the effects of uncertainty of input data and process parameters on metrics of technical and economic performance is vital for evaluation of overall system performance.