Method and device for fuel and power generation by clean combustion of organic waste materials

Institute Reference: INV-1108


Fossil fuel resources are finite, and are widely expected to dwindle in the not too distant future. As these resources become more scarce, the costs of extracting fuel have been on the rise and it has become more imperative to identify and utilize alternative fuel resources to limit reliance on fossil fuels. In addition, the total amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in the US alone has increased by three-fold from 80 million to 250 million tons over the past 50 years. In 2008, 12% of this total was non-biodegradable polymers (plastics). Only 7% of these plastic components are recycled, due to limited markets and limited consumer compliance. Solutions are needed to address the issues of (a) continuously decreasing available landfill space, (b) ubiquitous pollution problems (e.g., the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) and, (c) wasting such an energy dense fossil-fuel-derived resource. Accordingly, it is important to eliminate or reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the environment.

One potential way to eliminate organic waste is to incinerate it. Nonetheless, conventional techniques of burning organic waste material tend to be harmful to the environment and health of people. Another potential path to eliminating organic waste is to convert it into fuel. Organic waste has a tremendous amount of stored energy. Direct combustion of waste plastics, for instance, in waste incinerators releases their stored energy, which is on the order of 46,000 kJ/kg, and is comparable to those of the premium fuels of gasoline, diesel oil and natural gas. However, such conventional direct combustion techniques lead to uncontrollable, inefficient energy production that also generates large amounts of health-hazardous soot and hydrocarbons.

Technology Overview

Here Northeastern University inventors have disclosed methods and systems to achieve “clean burning” of solid organic waste materials, such as waste plastics, which are derivatives of fossil fuels. The systems and methods disclosed herein both destroy the wastes and produce either useful fuels or useful thermal energy. These systems and methods take advantage of the benefits of indirect combustion of waste polymers, where organic waste materials are converted to a liquid and/or a gas state prior to combustion. These systems use a fraction of the generated fuel to supply energy to the process and thus, are self-sustainable.


The system/method:

• Involves the use of pyrolysis to generate pyrolyzed fuels which are either used as such or burned to generate energy

• Allows for a clean burning of waste plastics with premixed flames (without releasing pollutants)

• Enables a careful energy balancing with minimization of heat losses as observed in prior art techniques

• Allows for a large scale utilization of organic wastes, thereby decreasing/emptying landfill spaces

• Would be useful for key commercial applications such as advanced thermal-to-energy conversions, and clean waste-to-energy power generation


  • Power Generation
  • Cleaning the environment of organic waste and solid waste plastics


  • Development partner
  • Commercial partner
  • Licensing



IP Status

  • Patented


Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Mark Saulich
Associate Director of Commercialization
Northeastern University
Yiannis Levendis
Anna Craver
Katherine Dixon
Brittne Rose Lynn
Mason Riley
Chuanwei Zhuo
Christopher Flanagan
Energy Technology