Self-Designed Project: Waste-to-Energy Systems

A CCNY faculty member who is an authority on Waste-to-Energy (WTE) would be happy to serve as capstone project advisor for a team that wishes to pursue a project on some current aspect of WTE, preferably in the New York City context. The details of the project would emerge in interactions between the team and the instructor, and be informed by the instructor’s knowledge of significant current issues in WTE, together with the team’s particular interests. The expectation is that the project would be adequately defined by the end of the Fall 2018 semester.

Introduction to WTE in the Context of NYC

Waste-to-energy (“WTE”)  refers to the process of using thermal means to convert waste materials into energy in the form of electricity or heat. The direct transformation of waste into usable energy is an elegant sustainability strategy.  When waste is directly combusted with minimal processing in a WTE facility, it is referred to as the “mass burn” approach. Alternatively, waste can undergo moderate to extensive processing, or be gasified, before it is combusted. These “other than mass burn” approaches are currently the ones contributing to the growth of WTE.

            There are now more than 400 WTE plants across Europe, with advanced systems in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands.[1]  Yet the US, despite its general openness to technological innovation, still has fewer than 90 WTE power plants, most of them built more than a decade ago. WTE plants require high up-front costs, but WTE technology now being developed may enable lower cost solutions.

New York City recently released “#ONENYC,” the City’s long-term “plan for growth, sustainability, resiliency, and equity.”  The Sustainability vision of includes Vision Goal 3: Zero Waste The goal is to “eliminate the need to send our waste to out-of-state landfills” by 2030. Importantly, the plan includes an outline of the proposed waste management system that includes “Energy Recovery Facility” as a component. The plan does not specify any particular WTE technologies or concepts. Also noteworthy is a current push by the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) to recycle more organics. There are complications with contamination, suggesting the usefulness of integrating and adjusting WTE planning and DSNY recycling plans.

Two Sample WTE Projects

Objective: Analyze the waste management system outlined in New York City’s #ONENYC Plan, and research current Waste-to-Energy (WTE) technologies being developed worldwide. On this basis, present a quantitatively-based recommendation as to how WTE technologies can best be integrated into the Energy Recovery Facility envisioned by the  #ONENYC Plan.

Objective:  Evaluate, design, and assess a thermal conversion system for converting biomass and municipal solid wastes to energy to supply small start-up companies. Specifically, develop an integrated waste-to-energy plan that aggregates wastes from operating companies within the Brooklyn Navy Yard and converts the waste to electricity and steam for the companies’ use.


[1]  Rosenthal, Elizabeth. “Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags.” New York Times on the Web 12 April, 2010. Accessed19 Oct. 2012 < http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/13/science/earth/13trash.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>