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Life-cycle assessment of a Waste-to-Energy plant in central Norway: Current situation and effects of changes in waste fraction composition


Waste-to-Energy (WtE) plants constitute one of the most common waste management options to deal with municipal solid waste. WtE plants have the dual objective to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and simultaneously to produce useful energy (heat and/or power). Energy from WtE is gaining steadily increasing importance in the energy mix of several countries. Norway is no exception, as energy recovered from waste currently represents the main energy source of the Norwegian district heating system. Life-cycle assessments (LCA) of WtE systems in a Norwegian context are quasi-nonexistent, and this study assesses the environmental performance of a WtE plant located in central Norway by combining detailed LCA methodology with primary data from plant operations. Mass transfer coefficients and leaching coefficients are used to trace emissions over the various life-cycle stages from waste logistics to final disposal of the ashes. We consider different fractions of input waste (current waste mix, insertion of 10% car fluff, 5% clinical waste and 10% and 50% wood waste), and find a total contribution to Climate Change Impact Potential ranging from 265 to 637 g CO2 eq/kg of waste and 25 to 61 g CO2 eq/MJ of heat. The key drivers of the environmental performances of the WtE system being assessed are the carbon biogenic fraction and the lower heating value of the incoming waste, the direct emissions at the WtE plant, the leaching of the heavy metals at the landfill sites and to a lesser extent the use of consumables. We benchmark the environmental performances of our WtE systems against those of fossil energy systems, and we find better performance for the majority of environmental impact categories, including Climate Change Impact Potential, although some trade-offs exist (e.g. higher impacts on Human Toxicity Potential than natural gas, but lower than coal). Also, the insertion of challenging new waste fractions is demonstrated to be an option both to cope with the excess capacity of the Norwegian WtE sector and to reach Norway’s ambitious political goals for environmentally friendly energy systems.


Academic article


  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 193817





  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • SINTEF Energy Research / Termisk energi



Published in

Waste Management






191 - 201

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