July 25, 2021

Trash becomes a controversial source of energy for Sweden

Trash becomes a controversial source of energy for Sweden


José Pablo JofreJosé Pablo Jofre
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Instead of burning coal or gas, a power plant in the Swedish city of Linkoping -to the south of Stockholm- uses as an input … garbage. Property of Tekniska Verken, a company of the municipality of Linköping, this plant works 24 hours a day – 1500 degrees– tons of waste from thousands of homes in this city founded in 1287. The Tekniska Verkens plant is not the only one in Sweden: to date there are 34 Swedish power plants that convert waste into energy.

Not everyone agrees with this technique. Its detractors consider that these energy plants powered by garbage are not a source of clean energy. It is also, according to his critics, a "false solution". According to the company, four tons of waste contain energy equivalent to one tonne of oil, 1.6 tons of coal or five tons of wood waste. In Sweden, about 49% of household waste is recycled; the rest is incinerated in plants such as Linköping: the heat produced is transformed into steam that turns turbines to generate electricity, just like conventional power plants that burn coal or gas. Garbage represents, however, a small portion of Sweden's total energy supply, in which around 83% is hydroelectric and 7% wind.

Energy use

Unlike conventional power plants that usually have large cooling towers that dissipate excess heat -by which only about 40% of the energy is used up completely-, the garbage-driven plant in Linköping, which generates electricity and heat water for domestic and commercial use, take advantage of 90% of the total energy. That 90% in all garbage plants equals the demand for heating and hot water of 1.25 million flats and electricity for 680,000 homes. All in all, it is still not clean energy since burning waste produces emissions. On the other hand, the incineration of garbage reduces methane (72 times more powerful than carbon dioxide) generated from organic waste in landfills. Tekniska Verken estimates that its garbage burning operations last year avoided issuing the equivalent of 467,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

In addition to heat and electricity, the Linköping garbage plant produces biogas from thousands of tons of food and organic waste. With this biogas operate more than 200 city buses, as well as fleets of garbage trucks, taxis and private cars. Critics insist: solutions like this discourage the reduction and recycling of waste and reduce investment in renewables, and that the process of burning garbage is intrinsically polluting.

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