2003 WtERT Conference

November 13-14, 2003, Columbia University, New York, NY

On November 13-14, 2003, the Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council (WtERT) hosted a meeting at Columbia University in the City of New York. About 100 persons attended this meeting, opened in the morning of November 13 by Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute of Columbia University and senior consultant to Secretary General of the U.N. Prof. Nickolas Themelis and Ms. Maria Zannes summarized the activities of the Council in its first year. The rest of the morning, there were presentations on the global WTE Industry.


November 13

  • Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute of Columbia University and senior consultant to Secretary General of the U.N.
    Meeting Open
  • Prof. Nickolas Themelis and Ms. Maria Zannes
    Summarized the activities of the Council in its first year
  • Presentations on the global WTE Industry
    • Prof. Xiaodong Li (co-author Prof. Kefa Cen) of Zhejiang University described thermal treatment of MSW in China.
    • Dr. Ralf Koralewska (co-authors: Mr. Joachim Horn and Dr. Oliver Gohlke) of MARTIN GmbH discussed recent developments of the Martin technology.
    • Dr.-Ing. Fabrice Patisson (co-author Prof. Denis AblitzerEcole des Mines de Nancy) presented the WTE research work at Nancy and an overview of WTE industry in France
    • Dr. Juergen Vehlow of the Research Center Karlsruhe (Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe, Germany) described the results of their research on the effects of combusting plastics in WTE plants on dioxin formation.
  • Drs. Karsten Millrath (Columbia), David M. Kargbo (Temple University), Frank J. Roethel (State University of New York at Stony Brook), and Saugata Datta (Columbia) presented results of research work on beneficial uses of ash.
  • Mr. Dionel Albina (Columbia)presented a comparison of emissions from U.S WTE and coal-fired power plants.
  • Mr. Larry Beaumont (Energy Answers Corporation) discussed challenges for the U.S. WTE industry in the 21st century
  • Alternatives  to WTE combustion for energy recovery
    • Mr. Tim Judge, Pencor-Masada presented the; the CES OxyNolTM process for generating  ethanol from MSW
    • Prof. Melvin Finstein (Rutgers) discussed the ArrowBioProcess and its relevance for New York City,
    • Ms. Karena Ostrem (Columbia) discussed the merits of anaerobic digestion as a complement to WTE and the current efforts of Earth Pledge to implement an AD demonstration plant in NYC.

November 14

  • Presentations on waste management in NYC
    • Mr. Scott Kaufman (Columbia) discussed  paper recycling in NYC.Monica DeAngelo (Columbia) presented the results of her research on use of GIS in siting new WTE facilities.
    • Mr. Ben Miller (Earth Engineering Center) discussed lessons learnt from the 1992 Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan for NYC.

General discussion on WtERT goals for 2004
All participants were asked for suggestions and comments as to what should WtERT do in the following year to advance the recovery of energy and materials from solid wastes. Prof. Themelis mentioned that in some other nations there were research institutes whose objective was to advance the Integrated Management of Wastes, i.e., recycling, composting, combustion and any other means that reduced the amount of wastes to be landfilled.  WtERT was attempting to fulfill this role in the U.S. and also link with other research centers around the world.

The principal areas of WtERT concentration at this time were

  • beneficial use of ash (coordinated by the Ash consortium and Dr. Karsten Millrath (please contact km516@columbia.edu)
  • minimization of corrosion in combustion chambers (co-ordinated by Mr. Dionel Albina at Columbia (please contact doa2001@columbia.edu).

Ms. Maria Zannes, the president of IWSA, stated that the main functions of WtERT should be research, training, and education. It allowed engineering students to consider all aspects of Integrated Waste Management. Communication with peers in academia, with technical people in industry and with the international WTE broadens the perspective of all WtERT members. The Council is a non-profit organization but money must be provided to support the graduate students who are engaged in WtERT research.

Prof. Themelis stated that the presentations by various faculty and graduate students at this meeting demonstrated the breadth of research activities undertaken by WtERT.

An environmental engineer from California commented that WtERT is well positioned to disseminate information on WTE and IWM. This information should be in a format that is understandable by the general public.

Another participant agreed with the statement made by Prof. Sachs that the School of Public Health should be brought into the picture so that the public understands better the health implications of WTE, landfilling, etc.

Mr. Edward Kurtz (a specialist in communication) suggested that an effort should be made to find out why WTE is being opposed by the public (e.g. in NYC). What does the public need to know to convince them one way or another?.

Mr. Greg Epelbaum (Chief Engineer, American Ref-fuel) said that the major problem with public perception of WTE is ignorance of some basic facts such as how electricity is produced, the downside of landfilling, etc.

Dr. Juergen Vehlow (Research Center at Karslsruhe) commented that effective dissemination of information to the public is key, since political action follows public perceptions.  WtERT, as an independent, academically-led group is in a strong position to inform the public. WtERT should participate in public hearings where waste management is discussed.  It is a long process but WtERT can illuminate the ongoing discussion with technical facts..

Prof. Themelis stated that WtERT is already influencing the debate about WTE in New York City(e.g., NYC Council has recently held a meeting on the latest technologies for WTE).

One of the registrants commented that it is essential in the debate to include economic considerations with regard to various competing technologies. “Usually, money talks!”

Mr. Scott Kaufman (Columbia) stated that a small part of the community, those who have strong positions against technology, bother to attend public meetings. Thus, the discussion is not rational and the vast majority is not represented.

Prof. Xiadong Li said that in China, the government has very strict rules in siting WTE facilities. The National Research Center publishes reports and data as to where WTE plants should be placed. In order to strengthen the case for new WTEs, they bring members of the community to already existing plants. This helps people to think positively about new plants. The scientific community has a major role in this process.

Ms. Zannes said that U.S. WTE facilities operating under the MACT regulations  bring skeptical people to their WTE plants, where they can see for themselves that there are no odors, etc.. This is the best way for changing peoples’ mind.

A senior operating engineer (ARF) commented that visits of the graduate students working with WtERT should be arranged to existing WTEs so they can see for themselves what is happening. The facility is a big seller by itself.

Mr. John Austin (ASME) commented that in siting new WTEs it is very important to consider effects the community, such as property values, financial stakes, and public health.

Another registrant questioned whether such effects are considered when new landfills are sited.

Mr. Larry Beaumont (EAC) applauded the idea of WtERT interdisciplinary studies (health, society, sustainable development) suggested by Prof. Sachs in his opening address.

Mr. Edward Kurtz  suggested that the School of Architecture should be involved in the design of new, esthetically pleasing WTEs.

Prof. Themelis pointed out that there is a need for funding the academic research of WtERT. He also mentioned that there would be a modest registration fee for next year’s WtERT conference.

Mr. John Skinner (SWANA) said that generally there are public misconceptions with regard to new technologies and WtERT can serve a very useful role in this regard.  It was reasonable to have a registration fee for future WtERT meetings.

Dr. Fabrice Patisson ( Ecole des Mines de Nancy, France) commented that the public is not sufficiently informed about WTE. His research center may join WtERT and representation should be sought form other universities around the world.

Mr. Robert Giraud (DuPont, working on industrial and hazardous wastes) stated that the input of WtERT in the national debate re waste management is good . However, the Council should focus on certain major issues and not try to cover all the subjects that had been mentioned.


Overview of Presentations (pdf)

Presentations of the University Ash Consortium (UAC):

Dionel Albina, Earth Engineering Center, Columbia University, “Comparative analysis of emissions from WTE and coal-fired power plants”

Larry Beaumont, EcoTechnologies, LLC, “Challenges for the U.S. WTE Industry in the 21st century”

Monica M. DeAngelo, Earth Engineering Center, Columbia University, “Using GIS Technology to Site WTE Facilities In NYC”

Professor Melvin Finstein, Rutgers University / ArrowBio, “The ArrowBio Process and its Relevance for New York City”

Tim Judge, Pencor-Masada, Masada Resource Group, LLC, “Converting Municipal Wastes into Renewable Fuels: the CES OxyNol™ process”

Scott M. Kaufman, Earth Engineering Center, Columbia University, “Paper Recycling and Waste Management”

Dr. Ralf Koralewska, MARTIN GmbH für Umwelt- und Energietechnik, Munich, Germany, “Recent Developments in MARTIN® WTE Systems”

Professor Xiaodong Li, Institute for Thermal Power Engineering (ITPE), Zhejiang University, China, “Advances made in the Thermal Treatment of Municipal Solid Wastes in China”

Benjamin Miller, Environmental Policy Services, LLC and Earth Engineering Center, Columbia University, “New York City’s 1992 Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan: Lessons Forgotten 11 Years Later”

Karena M. Ostrem, Earth Pledge and Earth Engineering Center, Columbia University, “Anaerobic Digestion of Organic Waste”

Dr. Stephen J. Paul, Plasma Physics Laboratory, Princeton University, “Disposing of wet/mixed organic wastes: Filtering the flow to landfills and WTE plants”

Dr. Fabrice Patisson, Ecole des Mines de Nancy, France, “Research on MSW combustion at the Nancy School of Mines and brief overview of the WTE industry in France”

Professor Nickolas J. Themelis, WtERT Council and Earth Engineering Center at Columbia University, “WtERT Council: Advancing the Implementation of Waste-to-Energy Technologies: The First Year”

Dr. Jürgen Vehlow, Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe GmbH (Research Center Karlsruhe), Germany, “Effects of Combusting Plastics in WTE Plants on Dioxin Formation and Ash Quality”Click here for the technical paper


I would like to thank all participants fo the WtERT Fall Meeting 2003 for their contribution. With the involvement of the audience an enthusiastic atmosphere was created that carried the meeting to an enjoyable success (see feedback). I have to express my gratefulness to the following people:

  • Dr. Jeffrey Sachs (Earth Institute at Columbia University) for his welcoming words,
  • Professor Nickolas Themelis and Maria Zannes (Chairs of the WtERT),
  • All speakers (Dionel O. Albina, E. Larry Beaumont, Saugata Datta, Monica M. DeAngelo, Tim Judge, Melvin Finstein, Grant Hendricks, David M. Kargbo, Scott M. Kaufman, Ralf Koralewska, Xiadong Li, Benjamin Miller, Karsten Millrath, Karena M. Ostrem, Fabrice Patisson, Stephen Paul, Frank J. Roethel, Nickolas J. Themelis, Jürgen Vehlow, Maria Zannes),
  • The “registration table” (Paula Estevez and Kanako Okada),
  • Technical and organizational support (Barbara Algin, John Lin, Masato Nakamura, Kim Spir, Liliana N. Themelis, the graduate students of Columbia’s Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, the Engineering Dean’s office at Columbia, Columbia’s ACIS, Columbia’s facilities management, Crown Catering), and
  • The sponsors of the WtERT, especially the Integrated Waste Services Association.

Thank you very much for your help and support,
Dr. Karsten Millrath, WtERT Manager


[…] The Council began its investigation into solid waste management with an open mind, and it continues to look at management methods without prejudice and outside the context of competition. You have a remarkably bright and inquisitive student body, and when given the freedom to investigate and report, there is little doubt that we’ll have a great conference every time. […]

[…] I think the WtERT deserves a lot of credit for putting together such a forward thinking event. The fact that alternatives to WTE were given so much time and attention demonstrates that the council is broader in scope than the name suggests. […]

[…] You did an excellent job. The conference was thought provoking and future oriented. Both presenters and the attendees made the conference stimulating and interesting. Many thanks and congratulations on an excellent meeting.[…]