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The University of Southampton

Research project: Processes, mechanics and management of wastes

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Waste management is changing rapidly as the need to manage the earth's resources responsibly becomes increasingly accepted and enshrined in new legislation.

Ideally, changes to the law, regulation and practice would be science-led; but in such a dynamic environment, scientific understanding and engineering know-how sometimes struggle to provide support with the result that the potential consequences of legislative and financial drivers for change may not be fully thought-through. For example, the EU Landfill Directive was enacted mainly to reduce fugitive greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, but its implementation with current treatment options could have the opposite effect. The aim of the Platform Grant is to provide the University of Southampton Waste Management Research Group with the stability and flexibility needed to explore new directions for its research that will provide the waste industry with the science and engineering needed for sustainable response to financial, regulatory and social drivers, and will address the legacy of unsolved problems arising from previous waste management practices. Key areas for development are:

  1. Field scale implementation of current research - enabling a rapid response when suitable study sites arise: We have developed the science needed by industry to reduce the long term pollution liability of landfills by a variety of remediation techniques, including flushing and in situ aerobic treatment. While excellent progress has been made, major uncertainties remain in upscaling from the laboratory to the field. This will be addressed in future research, in which we plan to investigate flushing and aeration at the field scale by running trials within discrete, bounded areas of MSW landfill(s) with the aim of significantly reducing the long term polluting potential of the wastes.
  2. Resource recovery - second generation bio-based products and energy carriers from organic wastes and post-landfill processing: Government policy and strategic waste planning has highlighted a vital role for energy and commodity grade resource recovery in UK waste management practice. The infrastructure to facilitate this is already taking shape, through source segregated collection systems, growing markets for recovered products and pricing structures (e.g. ROC and feed-in tariffs) to encourage renewable energy production. The technology, however, is still in its infancy and underpinning research is urgently needed to support process engineering design, adapt existing technologies and exploit the potential for using waste as a raw material for biorefineries and solid recovered fuels. This will be done within an overall energy, materials and product recovery framework to include MSW processing operations where source segregation is not practised and also post-land filled wastes to reduce their long-term pollution potential and to create additional void space.
  3. Application of recent and ongoing research to new forms of wastes - identifying key synergies: There is immense potential for translating the results of our current research into new areas, in particular in characterisation and near field contaminant transport modelling of low and very low level radioactive wastes.
  4. Development/promotion of a Sustainable Waste/Resource Management Forum including decision support systems (DSS - establishing expertise and stakeholder engagement, and maximising impact: DSS will make the results of the Group's research more readily available to users, encouraging knowledge transfer and maximising impact. Little work has been done to develop DSS for the waste industry, although the potential benefits have been recognised by some. DSS will also facilitate policy and operational decisions on the complex technology and process options available
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