Monday, September 12, 2011

Afternoon View: Waste-to-Energy Plant in Detroit

Detroit Thermal plant (formerly the Beacon Plant) on 541 Madison St. was built in 1926 and recently renovated.*
A parking attendant flags customers outside Comerica Park on a Tiger's game day in Detroit. Behind him stands the stacks of a Detroit Thermal plant which, "Provides steam for heat, hot water and cooling services in over 140 buildings in Detroit's central business district. Customers use district energy as an alternative to operating their own steam boilers, electric chillers or other energy systems." The facility, a waste-to-energy (WtE) plant, burns solid waste --trash -- to create the steam.

WtE plants are more common in Europe than in the US, according to the New York Times. Most modern plants are good at filtering pollutants in the process of burning the garbage, but some environmentalists object to burning rather than recycling or reducing trash (check out the Sierra Club's problems with incineration in Detroit). Overall though, the benefits seem to outweigh the costs (as long as plants produce low emissions). Methane capture in landfills is not nearly as efficient at converting waste to energy and retrofits can clean up older plants. The NYT chart below compares waste treatment in the US and Denmark, one of the biggest users of WtE (click for more detailed chart).


*Note: the photo is somewhat misleading. The plant building is actually behind the white building on the left, although it looks like the stacks are connected to this newer building. Here's another view.

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