Mind & Matter


Europe Leads Waste-to-Energy Conversion

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Materials and energy are two of the most discussed topics related to sustainability, and their relationship is the subject of increased scrutiny. The first law of thermodynamics, for example, teaches us that energy may not be created nor destroyed, but it may be transformed. The second law reminds us of the irreversible tendency towards entropy in natural processes. As products approach the end of their usable lifecycles, recycling is often promoted as the most viable alternative to conventional disposal. However, advocacy for the conversion of material from waste to energy is on the rise—especially in Europe.

An article published in today’s New York Times compares Denmark’s track record in waste-to-energy conversion to that of the United States. The new Denmark plants are quite sophisticated, transforming a high percentage of local waste into usable power—with dioxin levels lower than household fireplaces. Denmark recaptures energy from the same percentage of its own refuse as the U.S. sends to landfills.

Compared to Europe and Japan, the U.S. is slow to adopt this kind of material-to-energy conversion process. However, one may speculate about the potential for China to implement such strategies at a large scale. Considering China’s rapid growth, this kind of energy source could have an especially significant effect there—as it promises to reduce landfill use, limit carbon emissions, and diminish reliance upon fossil fuels.



Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: ericd1112 | Time: 5:48 PM Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    It's simple, people. Everytime you see the word "waste" I want you to start thinking "energy." The state of Iowa alone has enough agricultural waste - things like corn stalks and animal dung - to power most major cities in the Midwest.

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.