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Process optimization and environmental assessment of municipal solid waste conversion to liquid fuels and/or chemicals
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South Africa currently faces an energy security issue with regards to the country’s rather insignificant petroleum reserves. The Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis process has found great application in converting the reserves available to products of economic value in terms of fuels and chemicals finding the adequate application at Sasol and Petro SA alike. However, in the realisation of the fact that coal is a high pollutant and natural gas reserves at a critical low with Sasol and Petro SA respectively, new innovations have become of critical importance. Solid waste management has become an ever-growing problem world-wide due to rapid urbanization and population growth. South Africa was found to have generated 9 million tons of general waste in 2011 with the Western Cape generating 675 kg/capita/annum. The convention of management has been that of landfilling however, this method is fast becoming insignificant due to the lack of space and detrimental nature to the environment. Considering the energy security issue South Africa is facing, and the global drive of finding alternate sources of fuel with the depletion of fossil fuel, attention has turned to MSW as a sustainable source of energy while remediating its effect on the environment. Thermochemical conversions of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), this presents an attractive means of harnessing the potential value in this waste stream thus thermochemical conversion poses an attractive means of converting this waste stream into valuable fuel products. In the realisation of the 2 problems of energy security and solid waste disposal, Biomass to Liquid (BTL) technology was found to be the most suitable to tackle these issues. BTL is an established process that uses the thermal conversion of biomass into various liquid fuels products through a series of technologies. MSW is highly heterogeneous which poses a processing challenge, unlike virgin biomass which is normally used in BTL technologies. The study investigated the production of high-quality syngas through an Aspen simulation of thermal gasification which would be suitable for liquid fuels and chemicals via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis to bridge the energy security issue in South Africa. As the study also possesses an environmental facet, it was necessary to assess the pollution load caused by the process of landfilling in terms of Heavy Metals and Radionuclides which will be determined by means of radionuclide analysis and heavy metal analysis. The procedures were accomplished by use of the gamma-ray spectroscopy, High Purity Germanium detector, (HPGe) and Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry, (ICP-OES) methods. The study was conducted by making use of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) pellets produced from the MSW. 4 Different binders in form of corn starch, guar-gum starch, waste palm oil and waste engine oil were used in the production of the pellets, thus the effect of this on energy content and thermal degradation behaviour was studied. The energy content of MSW in Cape Town was investigated using a bomb calorimeter and the thermal degradation behaviour was studied using Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA). The South African Government, through the National Development Plan of South Africa, aims to provide access to the grid and off-grid electrical power to a minimum of 95 % of the population by 2030, of which 20 GW of the required 29 GW required for this needs to come from alternative and renewable energy sources. This study using the MSW from the City of Cape Town Municipality in South Africa shows that the MSW has a calorific value of approximately 19 MJ/kg which is significantly high, meaning that the waste can be directly used as fuel in many applications but more importantly that of electricity generation. The calorific value for the pelletised waste was found to be higher at an average of 23.9 MJ/kg which can be compared with South African coal being 25.1 MJ/kg. Using TGA, 3 distinguishable major mass loss regions were found between temperatures 55 – 265 ℃, 270 – 410 ℃ and 410 – 502 ℃. The total sample reduction was found to be more than 90 % on average which is a reduction of the waste. Heavy metals and Radionuclides (HM and R) are abundant in various types of municipal solid waste, including industrial waste, construction waste, medical waste, and household waste. Products containing HM and R are commonly disposed of in MSW or hazardous waste landfills and dumpsites. Approximately an average of 0.8 to 3 kg per capita per day of MSW is generated by suburban areas in South Africa. This method of managing or processing the waste has fast become inadequate and hence the need for new innovations. This has led to the focus on thermochemical conversion as an alternative. The soil is amongst the most considerable sources of radiation exposure to human beings and the migration for the transfer of radionuclides to the immediate environment. Exposure is a direct result of gamma-ray emissions that are produced by the most common terrestrial radionuclides, which are the member of the 238U and 232Th series and 40K of which concentrations differ with respect to the type of soil and the geology of the area. Environmental pollution by chemicals and heavy metals such as Cd, Ni, Zn, and Pb etc., showed a great increase in recent times due to various industrial operations including that of MSW disposal. All heavy metals at high concentrations have strong toxic effects and are regarded as environmental pollutants. Naturally occurring radionuclides activity was investigated at landfill sites from the City of Cape Town using a Hyper-Pure Germanium (HPGe) detector with appropriate shielding coupled to a Palmtop Multichannel Analyzer. Activity concentrations of the radionuclides 238U, 232Th and 40K were obtained from the activity concentrations of their respective daughter radionuclides. To obtain the overall combined effect in terms of activity concentration from the 3 parent radionuclides, the radium equivalent was calculated and 38.273, 41.019 and 83.007 Bq/Kg were obtained from Bellville, Coastal Park, and Vissershok respectively. Other radiological hazards in terms of Internal and External hazard indices and Representative hazard index were determined and found to be within safe limits. The dose rate in the air at 1m above the ground was determined to obtain a characteristic of the external gamma-ray and was found to be 17.490, 18.609 and 38.667 nGy/y for Bellville, Coastal Park, and Vissershok respectively. The health effects of the radiation in terms of annual effective dose and excess lifetime cancer risk were determined to be 0.031 mSv/y and 0.0961×10-3 which are lower than limits set by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA). The gasification part of the study was through process simulation models on ASPEN Plus Process simulation software. This investigation proposes a model of syngas creation from Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) Pellet gasification with air in a fixed bed reactor. The model (utilizing Aspen Plus process simulation software) is utilized to model the anticipated results of RDF gasification and to give some processes fundamentals concerning syngas generation from RDF gasification. The fixed bed reactors are an updraft fixed bed reactor which can be divided into 3 sections which are drying, pyrolysis and gasification. The model is based on a combination of models that the Aspen Plus simulator provides, representing the three stages of gasification. Thermodynamics package used in the simulation comprised the Non-Random Two-Liquid (NRTL) model. The model works on the principle of Gibbs free energy minimization and was validated with experimental data of MSW gasification found in the literature. The RYield module was combined with the RGibbs module to describe pyrolysis section, while the RGibbs module was used for the gasification section individually. Proximate and ultimate analysis of RDF pellets and operating conditions used in the model are discussed. The sensitivity analysis module of Aspen Plus was used to research the effect of air equivalence ratio, ER and temperature value on the syngas composition, and carbon conversion. The results indicate that higher temperature improves gasification as the composition of H2 and CO increase, as well as carbon conversion until a temperature of 900 ℃ and higher air equivalence ratio increases the carbon conversion while decreasing syngas quality as there is an increase in CO2 and H2. The most suitable binder for the gasification of RDF derived from MSW is maize starch, with the optimal process parameters for the production of syngas being that of temperature at 780 0C and airflow rate of 6 kg/hr which translates into a fuel-to-air feed ratio of about 1:2. Results obtained are in good agreement with the experimentally measured data in the literature.