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Technical Document for Batch Waste Incineration

2.0 The Waste Incineration Process

This section provides background information on the waste incineration process in order to provide a basis for understanding the recommendations contained later in the report. This chapter discusses: controlling combustion and emissions; waste incineration technologies; and, general design and operation considerations.

2.1 Controlling Combustion

2.1.1 Overview of the Waste Incineration Process

Gases, liquids and solids containing carbon and hydrogen can be burned. The way each state of matter burns is different. In the context of this document, waste being incinerated is mostly in solid form as opposed to a liquid or a gas.

Most solid fuels contain both volatile materials and fixed carbon. During combustion, two different processes occur: the gaseous volatile materials are released and oxidised; and, the fixed carbon is oxidised.

In the first process, the volatile materials are released by pyrolysis reactions that convert the waste into gases consisting of hydrogen, carbon monoxide (CO), light hydrocarbons and tars. Once released in the high temperature environment, the hydrogen reacts instantaneously with oxygen to form water vapour. The CO oxidises to form carbon dioxide (CO2) at a slightly slower rate. The hydrocarbons and tars react to form hydrogen and carbon, which in turn are oxidised. The gaseous reactions require oxygen and an elevated temperature. If the gases and the air are not well mixed some of the reactions do not go to completion and tars and other products of incomplete combustion, such as dioxins/furans, can also be released to the flue. Under these circumstances, the stack gases will be cooler and tars and other products of incomplete combustion will condense on the flue walls as soot or tar deposits.

In the second process, the remaining fixed carbon oxidizes and releases CO. This reaction takes longer than the release of the volatile materials because oxygen must diffuse to the material's surface where it can react. The rate of this reaction is proportional to the exposed surface area available.

Throughout the combustion process, the oxidation of CO to CO2 occurs through reactions with hydroxyl (OH) radicals. If excessive air is present in the combustion zone, the combustion temperature and the concentration of hydroxyl radicals will be reduced and the CO oxidation reaction will be inhibited. This results in elevated concentrations of CO in the exhaust gases. Insufficient air can also lead to high CO concentration because there will be insufficient oxygen to oxidise the CO.

The burning of waste in an incinerator is essentially a rapid oxidation process that generates heat and converts the waste to the gaseous products of combustion, namely carbon dioxide and water vapour, which are released to the atmosphere. At the end of the burning process, there may be residual materials and ash that cannot burn.

2.1.2 Controlling Combustion

Controlling combustion during the waste incineration process is very important for in order to minimize the formation and release of products of incomplete combustion such as dioxins and furans. The intent is to ensure that the combustion process is as complete as possible, yielding residues with little carbon, and stack gases containing only carbon dioxide and water vapour.

Solid waste is generally characterized as heterogeneous, with materials that burn at different rates. The rate of burning is determined by the amount of air added to the waste. When burning waste in a well designed incinerator, air flows are controlled to ensure high temperatures and a clean burn.

Burning is an oxidation reaction that requires a precise amount of oxygen to mix with the material being burned. This is termed the stoichiometric oxygen requirement. There must be just enough oxygen molecules to combine with the carbon and hydrogen from the waste to create carbon dioxide and water. If the quantity of oxygen available is just enough, the temperature generated by the reactions will reach its maximum. If too little or too much oxygen is present, the temperature achieved in the system will be lower.

In batch incinerators, the waste sits stationary on a solid surface referred to as the hearth. The heterogeneous mix of waste on the hearth changes as the waste is reduced to ash through gasification and oxidation reactions. The initial heat required to ignite the waste is supplied by a burner that uses propane, natural gas or oil. Since the fuel supply to the burner is continuous, the burner can stay on indefinitely during the burn cycle. However, this would increase operating costs, and so the incinerator controls shut off the burner once the waste on the hearth has generated sufficient heat to allow the reactions to become self sustaining.

Air must be provided to sustain the combustion process. In batch incinerators, the air is supplied through holes in the incinerator walls. These holes are positioned so that the air is directed to the base of the hearth. In larger continuously operated incinerators, these air ports are under the fuel bed. In either case the air introduced in this manner is termed "under fired" air to denote where it is injected. Air must also be added above the hearth to burn the gases generated. This air also enters through air ports, and is referred to as "over fired" air. In dual chamber incinerators the over fired air is added in the secondary chamber. It is not sufficient just to add the over fired air, it must be well mixed with the volatile gases to ensure good combustion. This mixing is typically accomplished by passing the volatile gases through a "flame port" that is smaller than the primary chamber dimensions. Air can be added in the flame port or immediately after it. The flame port increases the gas velocity and introduces turbulence into the gas stream to promote mixing.

The oxidation reactions require a finite amount of time for completion, meaning that the duration of exposure at elevated temperatures must be controlled. Since batch incinerators typically lack any mechanism for agitating the waste, the temperature in the system must be maintained by re-igniting the primary burner. The combustion cycle for a batch waste incinerator is thus set to ensure maximum carbon reduction of the waste on the hearth.

The type of waste incinerated can have significant implications for the control of combustion. Paper and plastics have a higher energy value and require more air to complete the combustion process. Food wastes, with lower energy levels, require less air to complete the burning process. However, the moisture in food waste has to be evaporated before the carbon can sustain combustion. Thus, food wastes must be heated for longer periods before the combustion process commences and the primary burner can be shut off.

Combustion in the secondary chamber of a dual chamber incinerator will respond to the quantity of volatile gases present. As the volatile gas release rate drops, the temperature in the secondary chamber will also drop. To address this issue, most batch waste incinerators are equipped with secondary chamber auxiliary fuel burners. These burners maintain the desired temperature in the secondary chamber and assist with heating the incinerator during start up. The secondary chamber is typically sized to provide the gases with a one second residence time at 1000°C.

2.1.3 Reducing Dioxin and Furan Emissions

Emissions of air contaminants from batch waste incinerators are a function of the design and operation of the equipment, and the nature of the materials being processed. Heavy metals present in the waste will be released with the exhaust gases. If there is mercury in the waste, mercury will be found in the emissions. If no mercury enters the incinerator, it cannot exit the stack. However, the same approach cannot be used to reduce the emissions of POPs, and in particular, dioxins and furans (PCDD/F).

It is known that at temperatures in excess of 600°C, any PCDD/F will be destroyed. However, even in incinerators with good combustion there is a potential for PCDD/F formation due to de novo synthesis reactions. De novo reactions occur at temperatures in the 250–450°C range when stack gases and fly ash are in contact for periods exceeding a few seconds. It has been postulated that residual carbon in the fly ash reacts with components in the exhaust gases to form PCDD/F. Given this behaviour, it should not be surprising that facilities with low temperatures have been identified as those having higher PCDD/F emissions.

Chemical reactions are driven by concentration gradients, so the higher the concentrations of carbon and fly ash the more likely the reaction will produce high emissions. Similarly, incinerators with higher concentrations of fly ash in zones with lower temperatures are anticipated to produce significantly more de novo reactions.

Carbon monoxyde (CO) concentrations in the exhaust gases are a good indicator of combustion efficiency. Most incinerators can be adjusted to give a minimum CO concentration. For batch waste incinerators, CO concentrations should be below 50ppm. If the incinerator is not operated appropriately (for instance, if the waste has a high calorific value and insufficient air is provided to complete the combustion process), CO levels will rise and black smoke will be released. Such smoke will contain large quantities of carbon that can react to produce higher PCDD/F emissions. Conversely, if the waste cannot create enough heat in the primary chamber to achieve the target temperatures, perhaps because too much air is leaking into the incinerator, there will be zones in the incinerator where temperatures could be in the de novo reaction range. The extra air can also entrain particulate matter from the hearth raising fly ash levels in the gas stream. The result will be higher PCDD/F concentrations than might be found in a properly operating system.

2.2 Waste Incineration Technologies

A waste incinerator is a system constructed to thermally treat (i.e. combust or pyrolyze) a waste for the purpose of reducing its volume, destroying a hazardous substances or pathogens present in the waste. There are two main types of waste incinerators: batch and continuous. Batch waste incinerators are loaded with waste through an open door which is then closed before the waste is ignited. The door remains closed until the ash residues remaining on the hearth have cooled and can be safely removed. The duration of a batch waste incinerator cycle is measured in hours. In comparison, continuously operated incinerators receive fresh waste and discharge ash residues periodically throughout their operation, which can last from weeks to months. This Technical Document focuses on minimizing dioxins/furans and mercury emissions from batch waste incinerator systems ranging in size from 50 to 3,000 kg of waste/batch.

For facilities incinerating more than 26 tonnes of waste per year (tpy), the preferred incinerator for new installations is the dual chamber controlled air incinerator. The dual chamber controlled air incinerator has two chambers and each chamber is equipped with air ports that allow the quantity of air added in various parts of the incinerator to be controlled. They are capable of achieving the higher operating temperatures required to minimize the emissions of POPs, and particularly dioxins/furans. Figures 2.2 and 2.3 illustrate the design of a typical dual chamber controlled air incinerator.

Batch waste incinerators have a zone where the waste is ignited and mixed with air to promote combustion, and a second zone where additional air is added to complete the combustion process. In large continuously operated incinerators, the energy available in the hot exhaust gas stream may be recovered in a heat recovery steam generator (HRSG) or hot water boiler. The steam generated can be used to produce electricity or it can be used for process or space heating. Heat recovery is not recommended for batch waste incinerators, as it lowers the gas temperatures in the system and can lead to de novo synthesis formation of PCDD/F.

Large continuously operated incinerators are equipped with air pollution control (APC) systems to treat the hot gases leaving the heat recovery system. The gases leaving the heat recovery system are cooled by a fine water mist to reduce the size of the required air pollution control equipment and to protect the incinerator from high gas temperatures. If a large continuously operated incinerator is not equipped with a heat recovery system, a rapid water quench system is used to achieve the desired gas temperatures. Such quenching will limit the potential for de novo synthesis of PCDD/F because the gases do not remain in the critical temperature range for sufficient time to allow the de novo reactions to proceed.

APC systems are not recommended for batch waste incineration systems to control PCDD/F emissions. Stack gases should be released directly to the atmosphere at temperatures in excess of 700°C to reduce the chances of inadvertent formation of PCDD/F through the de novo synthesis process.

After the waste has been oxidized in the primary chamber, residues, generally referred to as bottom ash, must be removed. Bottom ash from well-operated incinerators has been shown to contain low PCDD/F concentrations (<20 pg TEQ/g of bottom ash). Solid residues deposited in the heat recovery system of large continuously operated incinerators typically have <50 pg TEQ/g of PCDD/F whereas residues from air pollution control systems typically have <300 pg TEQ/g of PCDD/F. The deposits from heat recovery systems and air pollution control systems are generally referred to as fly ash because the ash has travelled suspended in the exhaust gases. Because of low gas velocities, batch waste incinerators create much less fly ash than large continuously operated incinerators.

Figure 2.2. Photograph of a controlled air dual chamber incinerator. See description below.

Figure 2.2 Typical Controlled Air Dual Chamber Incinerator

Figure 2.2 is a photograph of a controlled air dual chamber incinerator. The incinerator is outside on snow covered ground. It consists of two green, stacked cylindrical chambers. The door is open to the primary combustion chamber where the waste would be loaded. Above the primary chamber is the closed secondary chamber. There is a long exhaust stack that comes out from the secondary chamber.

Figure 2.3 Schematic of Typical Controlled Air Dual Chamber Incinerator. See description below.

Figure 2.3 Schematic of Typical Controlled Air Dual Chamber Incinerator (Credit: Eco Waste Solutions)

2.3 General Design and Operation Considerations

2.3.1 Design and Operation

The design features addressed below are deemed to be most important for those contemplating buying a dual chamber controlled air batch incineration system. As mentioned previously, the emphasis is on batch waste incinerators that are capable of disposing of up to 3,000 kg of waste per batch.

The degree to which the combustion process is completed is a function of:

  • the temperature the combusting gases reach;
  • the length of time the gases remain at elevated temperatures;
  • how well the air and the gases are mixed; and
  • whether there is adequate oxygen to permit complete combustion.

Combustion temperatures downstream of the primary chamber and the residence time for gases at this temperature are frequently specified in regulations. In Ontario, for example, waste incinerators must provide a 1 second residence time for gases at 1,000°CFootnote 12. In the European Union, the requirements are two seconds at 850°CFootnote 13. These values reflect operating conditions in incinerators with low emissions.

The incinerator designer has more discretion in defining the temperatures in the primary chamber. Primary chambers are designed with consideration of the wastes that will be destroyed. Materials that are harder to burn require higher operating temperatures. The design temperature is governed by the rate at which heat is released in the primary chamber, which is known as the target volumetric heat release rate and expressed in MJ/m³/hour. This value is based upon the calorific value of the waste in MJ/kg, the quantity of waste to be charged to the incinerator in kg/batch, and the volume of the primary chamber in cubic metres. The operating temperature in a system provides a limit for the volumetric heat release rate. For the typical dual chamber incinerator, the primary chamber should operate in the 500 – 800°C range.

Since the temperatures achieved in a specific primary chamber are a function of the heat release rate and the waste mass, it is important that the incinerator be loaded with waste that matches its particular design characteristics. It should be remembered that by design, incinerators are heat release limited devices. Too little heat and the material will not burn properly; too much heat will lead to damage to the incinerator. When the appropriate amount of energy is introduced into the primary chamber, the primary chamber temperature in a batch waste incinerator can be controlled principally through adjusting the air to fuel ratio.

Air addition to the primary and secondary chambers of batch waste incinerators will result in exhaust oxygen concentrations in the range of 6 – 12%. Operation in this zone will minimize the release of CO and thus also minimize trace organic releases. This range can be reduced based upon testing of a given system to produce minimum CO levels. Maintaining oxygen concentrations within the manufacturer's recommended range will ensure that the system is operating at in the most efficient manner.

As noted, temperature control involves regulating the air to fuel ratio. To lower the temperature, more air is added, up to the maximum flow. Alternatively the auxiliary fuel flow rate can be reduced. The primary chamber of a batch waste incinerator is designed for a waste mass of a certain calorific value. The air supply system is sized to provide the appropriate level of excess air to control the temperature to the desired level, even if the heat input varies from design.

It is considered poor practice to introduce wastes at either extreme of the calorific value range if good combustion is the objective. In order to prevent any situation where the temperature might be damaging to the primary chamber, the quantity of high calorific waste in any charge must be limited. Wastes should be mixed to achieve a relatively uniform heating value close to the design point of the unit. If the operator controls the quality of the waste mix, any variability in the rate that the waste burns can usually be managed by the control systems of the incinerator.

2.3.2 Heat Recovery

In most cases, batch waste incinerators should not be equipped with heat recovery because this can lower temperatures and lead to de novo synthesis formation of PCDD/F.

2.3.3 Air Pollution Control Systems

Air Pollution Control (APC) systems with evaporative cooling towers and dry scrubbers are seldom recommended for small batch fed incinerators for two main reasons:

  • Due to the non-continuous nature of batch waste incineration, gas temperatures will vary from ambient to operating levels as high as 1,200°C each time the system is operated. When not at high temperature, condensation can occur and cause corrosion in the system. Furthermore, deposits remaining in the duct work during the cool down phase pass through the de novo synthesis temperature and can increase the production of PCDD/F.
  • Since the non-continuous nature of batch waste incinerator operation generally makes it impractical to install a heat recovery system, there will be no initial cooling of the gas stream and higher temperatures will enter the APC system. To prevent equipment damage, some means of rapid gas cooling would need to be installed. This would require large volumes of water, some of which will collect hydrochloric acid and other acidic gases, and would require treatment or at the least re-circulation in the system. In certain areas of the country, obtaining the water and treating it could present significant challenges.

Adding an APC system to a batch waste incinerator will also increase the pressure drop across the system. This will result in the need for induced draft fans to exhaust the combustion gases. The induced draft fan and the air pollution control system will increase the energy requirements of the incinerator.

In most cases, APC systems are not recommended for batch incineration systems to control PCDD/F emissions. By ensuring good combustion control and exhaust gas temperatures in excess of 700°C, there should be little opportunity for the formation of PCDD/F through de novo synthesis

However, in certain jurisdictions and/or operating conditions it may be necessary to employ an APC system. Owners and operators should consult with manufacturers and local regulatory authorities regarding any such requirements.


Footnote 12

Ontario Ministry of the Environment, 2004. GUIDELINE A-7 Combustion and Air Pollution Control Requirements for New Municipal Solid Waste Incinerators

Return to footnote 12 referrer

Footnote 13

Directive 2000/76/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 December 2000 on the incineration of waste. 2000.

Return to footnote 13 referrer

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