Environmental Students Go on Location to Study Waste-to-Energy Conversion
Posted February 23, 2012
The Hun School of Princeton environmental studies class toured Waste Management’s Wheelabrator Falls waste-to-energy facility on February 13th to get a first-hand look at the energy production plant in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Students learned how the plant converts nearly 1,500 tons of household refuse to 48 megawatts of electricity every day, powering nearly 48,000 homes and businesses in the surrounding towns.
The Wheelabrator facility uses heat from burning trash to create steam power that operates the plant’s generator. Not only can electricity be created from the burning trash, but waste is reduced by 90-95% of its original weight, taking up that much less space in nearby landfills.
Following their visit, faculty member Julie Shuler-Misra asked her students to consider questions they had about the local plant. Among the topics discussed were the economic costs and benefits of an incinerator compared to a landfill, governmental regulations imposed by the EPA, and regulations that limit the number of trash-to-energy facilities within the United States.
“I’m interested in the economics of this type of plant,” said Wyatt Vinci ’12. “There is obviously a benefit to keeping trash out of landfills and reducing methane emissions,” he said, “but some of the literature I was able to find indicated that these plants have a life-span of approximately thirty years. How can we consider that sustainable?”
Yoonha Cho ’13 researched foreign countries that allow for a greater number of incinerators. She compared this to the reasons for governmental limitations on facilities in the United States. Hee Eun Choi ’13 and Christopher Seitz ’12 researched the environmental and social effects of waste-to-energy facilities as opposed to landfills, with particular focus on the chemical by-products produced during incineration of household trash.
“Students were analyzing the trade-offs that exist between energy creation and pollution,” said Ms. Shuler-Misra. “It was important for them, as students of environmental studies, to first see where trash ultimately goes. And, in a real-world context, it was important for them to determine for themselves which type of action is best (landfill or alternative).”