Historically, pyrolysis technologies occupied a niche, producing materials with useful chemical functionality from wood, by the continuous application of heat. In the 21st century pyrolysis is promoted as an “advanced” technology for the extraction of heat from municipal refuse, at the same time as claiming “sustainable” and “efficient” credentials. This paper examines the concept of pyrolysis, and the potential for a phenomenon which demands energy to be considered as something which can be engineered to provide energy. Using literature review and case study methods, along with civil permit applications and experimental results, it shows that a pyrolysis plant for self-sustaining Energy from Waste is thermodynamically unproven, practically implausible, and environmentally unsound. A linkage between widespread commercial failures and a lack of focus on thermodynamic fundamentals is also identified, along with an environment of indifference or ignorance towards energy balances and sustainability when these technologies are presented, assessed and financed. Though proposals to build machines which violate physical laws is not new, in a modern context this phenomenon is found to be stimulated by competitive financial rewards. The situation presents a high risk to investors and has the potential to adversely impact on societal transitions to a more sustainable future.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Waste Management and Disposal
- Economics and Econometrics