Waste-to-Energy (WTE) is the process of converting municipal, commercial, industrial or medical waste into thermal energy and electricity to heat, cool and power our industries, institutions and homes.

Just as natural gas and oil are burned in boilers to generate steam, waste can be used as a renewable fuel source for power generation.

Based on national data, per capita production of municipal, commercial and institutional waste is approximately 3.5 to 4.0 pounds each day. Nearly 80% of this waste is organic in nature and therefore supports combustion extremely well. The average solid municipal waste composite has a heating content equal to half that of coal, making it a renewable source of energy; however the primary method disposing of waste is land-filling. An alternative to burying this resource is to incinerate it in a controlled environment and capture the heat through a Heat Recovery Steam Generator (HRSG). The steam, similar to steam generated with fossil fuels, can be used to provide electricity, heating or cooling. The remaining waste ash is sterile and represents approximately ten percent of the volume normally sent to the landfill.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy:

  • WTE is the only renewable energy technology that provides communities with dual environmental benefits: a clean source of electricity and clean trash disposal.
  • The fuel used in WTE plants to produce clean electricity is municipal solid waste. Trash is both “sustainable” and “indigenous” – two basic criteria for establishing what is a renewable energy source. Society will continue to generate waste and no one can reasonably claim that waste will ever be 100 percent eliminated.
  • The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 provides a special incentive for utilities that use renewable fuels. Under the Act, “the term ‘qualified renewable energy’ means energy derived from biomass, solar, geothermal, or wind as identified by the Administrator in consultation with the Secretary of Energy.”

According to the Integrated Waste Services Association (IWSA):

WTE facilities process nearly 30 million tons of trash each year and generate enough power to meet the needs of 2.4 million homes. More than 37 million people in 31 states rely on the 102 WTE plants nationwide.


Thermal Engineering Group

has been actively involved in the design and development of Waste-To-Energy projects for nearly two decades, having successfully completed 16 projects with plants ranging in size from 50 to 1500 tons per day of municipal waste.