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  • Writer's pictureTomos Morris

5 Different Ways Energy Waste Can Be Recycled

We all know what recycling is. We use something, dispose of it, and then the material is eventually processed and turned into something else. It's an ideal cycle that increases the efficiency of our products. This process not only applies to the products that we as consumers use but also to the energy and resources that our industrial plants (and other sources of energy) use to power our infrastructure.

Markus Distelrath

One of the main problems our society faces is the amount of emissions released through the process of fuel consumption. This is one of the main causes of climate change. The biggest solution we are told about is reducing emissions so that global temperatures do not rise above the danger zone. One way this can be achieved is through maximizing the efficiency of our energy facilities. This involves capturing, processing, and reusing leftover materials from many different energy producers.


Let's take a look at some of these solutions:


Carbon Capture

Carbon, or CO₂, is an element that is released during the burning of fuel. Due to societal demands, more fuel is needed to power our world, leading to higher concentrations of CO₂ released into our atmosphere. This gas results in trapped heat within our atmosphere, better known as the "greenhouse effect". It is this effect that is the leading cause of climate change. Finding ways to recycle and repurpose this element is essential because carbon is so prevalent and harmful to the environment.


Carbon capture involves the trapping of carbon released from factories, fossil fuel plants, and directly from the air. This is done by pulling the air through fans, which are then able to collect precipitated carbon.


Photo by Chris LeBoutillier

The captured CO₂ can have a variety of uses, apart from just being stored. It can be used in food processing, or it can be combined with hydrogen to produce synthetic fuels. There are even labs that are producing jewellery from this carbon. Some current technologies can capture more than 90% of released carbon. Due to the fact that so many of our utilities use carbon, capturing technologies have huge potential.


Nuclear Waste

Nuclear energy is one of the largest sources of zero-emissions power. This method of energy production involves splitting uranium atoms, a process known as nuclear fission. The heat generated from this produces steam, which is then used by a turbine generator to produce electricity.


Photo by Johannes Plenio

While this provides a clean source of energy, one of the biggest drawbacks is the fact that this energy source produces a lot of waste. The resultant waste is also known as spent nuclear fuel, and much of it requires a lot of money and space for safe storage.


However, nuclear waste can be recycled. More than 90% of potential stored energy can be used, even after five years of operation inside a nuclear reactor. If processed correctly, spent nuclear fuel can be reused, maximising its potential as a renewable energy source. The main downside is that this method is costly and requires extensive infrastructural developments to increase its availability. However, there are currently plans to develop more advanced nuclear power plants that use the spent fuel.


Cogeneration

Many power plants and facilities produce excess energy as a consequence of their energy output. One of the main examples is heat. This can cause a variety of problems, and it can be costly to mitigate.


The conversion of this excess heat can extraordinarily increase the efficiency of our facilities. This method, known as cogeneration, derives production from both electricity and useful thermal energy from a single source. The heat that is produced would normally be lost, but in this case, it is recovered.


Cities in Scandinavia use this method to provide power to many homes through the heat produced by data centers. A recent example in the UK has involved recent success in heating a swimming pool through similar means.


Photo by Kindel Media

Biogas

Food, human waste, and animal waste all have the potential to be turned into

energy. This process involves placing the waste into vats where they are starved for

oxygen, ferment, and produce gas - a process better known as anaerobic


Photo by Pok Rie

This process of waste decay produces what is called ‘biogas’ which is then

captured. This biogas can be used as an energy source. For example, in the agricultural sector, animal waste can be turned into biogas that

can then be used to power machinery.






Waste Incineration

General waste would normally go straight to landfill, but in the case of waste incineration, it is burned. The steam produced by this burning is then used to power a turbine generator. This is a very controversial method of treating general wast

photo by Adonyi Gábor

e, since the burning of this fuel produces not only CO₂, but other toxins and pollutants.


It is worth noting that it does not produce as many emissions as fossil fuels, yet it still releases a substantial amount. As controversial as this method is, it is very much a solvable problem that is currently being worked on. Waste incineration has the potential to generate greener, sustainable energy. This is best exemplified in the Klemetsrud waste-toenergy project in Oslo Norway. This cutting edge plant will be the first waste-to-energy to have the capability of capturing and storing 400,000 tonnes of CO₂.


It was designed with the intention of being ‘energy-efficient, economical, and environmentally friendly’. It is due for completion in 2026, and is hopefully a sign of good developments to come.


Conclusion

Recycling is an essential process that we as a society must continue to practice in order to reduce our carbon footprint and increase the efficiency of our products. However, recycling shouldn't be limited to just physical materials, but also the energy that we consume.


These five methods of recycling energy highlight the potential that exists in repurposing and reusing the energy that we generate. Carbon capture, nuclear waste recycling, cogeneration, biogas, and waste incineration all offer unique solutions to the problems of energy waste and greenhouse gas emissions.


As we continue to work towards a more sustainable future, we must explore these solutions and others like them to find new ways to recycle and repurpose the energy we generate. By doing so, we can reduce our impact on the environment and build a more sustainable future for generations to come.

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