An Overview of Municipal Solid Waste Pyrolysis

As countries around the world place increasing emphasis on sustainable development, traditional methods of waste incineration and landfilling, due to their significant environmental hazards, are no longer able to meet the requirements of modern municipal solid waste (MSW) management. Currently, efficient, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective MSW pyrolysis technology is garnering widespread attention. This technology not only renders MSW harmless but also produces energy and chemical raw materials. It stands as one of the most promising technologies in the field of solid waste management.

What is Pyrolysis

Pyrolysis, at its core, is a thermochemical process characterized by the decomposition of organic materials through high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. Unlike combustion or incineration, which involve the burning of materials in the presence of oxygen, pyrolysis relies on an oxygen-free environment to facilitate the breakdown of complex organic compounds. This absence of oxygen prevents complete combustion and allows for the creation of valuable byproducts.

In the context of municipal solid waste (MSW) management, pyrolysis serves as a revolutionary approach to treating waste materials. Through controlled heating (300 ~ 700℃), MSW undergoes a transformation, breaking down into gases, liquids, and solid residues. Each of these byproducts holds unique properties that can be harnessed for various applications, ranging from energy generation to the recovery of valuable resources. Compared to direct incineration, MSW pyrolysis generates fewer NOx and SO2 emissions while also preventing the formation of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins/dibenzofurans (PCDD/F).

Composition of MSW

Compared to other types of waste, the composition of municipal solid waste is more complex. The main components of MSW include organic waste, paper, plastic, glass, and metal. The organic component of MSW mainly includes food waste, cooking waste, and residues from residences, restaurants, cafes, eateries, and markets. This type of waste has a high moisture content and is highly bioactive.

The second largest source of MSW is paper, which can be categorized into printing paper (including journals, books, and magazines), cardboard, and toilet paper. Plastic is also a significant component of MSW, primarily originating from fishing equipment and everyday plastic waste. Glass and metal are also sources of MSW generation. Municipal solid waste includes various types of metals, such as aerosol cans, aluminum baking trays, cooking oil cans, tin, and cans made of steel or aluminum, as well as bottles from cleaning products.

municipal solid wastes

MSW Pyrolysis Process

Due to the complex composition of municipal solid waste (MSW), thorough sorting is necessary before undergoing pyrolysis to remove non-combustible materials such as glass and metal. It is also essential to Implement an effective waste sorting and recycling system locally.

After sorting, the waste is sent to a pyrolysis reactor for the thermal decomposition process. Common types of pyrolysis reactors include fixed bed reactors, fluidized bed reactors, rotary kilns, and others. Within the pyrolysis reactor, high-molecular-weight organic compounds in municipal solid waste undergo rapid heating, drying, decomposition, and carbonization, transforming into small-molecule gases and fixed carbon.

Under conditions of high temperature and oxygen deficiency, the organic matter in the waste undergoes a series of physicochemical reactions, ultimately breaking down into low-molecular-weight compounds. The pyrolysis of MSW is a highly complex physical and chemical process, resulting in substances comprising three main parts: gas, liquid, and solid residue. The gas consists mainly of combustible gases such as H2, CO, CH4, and C2H4, mixed to form syngas; the liquid phase is primarily composed of liquid tar containing acetic acid, acetone, alcohol, and composite hydrocarbons; the solid residue consists mainly of carbon produced during pyrolysis and inert substances inherent in the garbage itself.

municipal solid waste pyrolysis plant

Advantages of MSW Pyrolysis

Conversion of Waste to Energy:

The technology facilitates the transformation of waste into energy. The syngas produced from MSW pyrolysis serve as a renewable energy source that can be used for combustion and power generation, providing sustainable electricity and heat to the local community and reducing reliance on traditional fossil fuels.

Environmental Pollution Reduction:

By conducting pyrolysis reactions under anaerobic conditions, the process avoids the generation of harmful gases like dioxins, a common issue in traditional waste incineration. Additionally, it mitigates environmental pollution associated with landfilling, including soil contamination and related health concerns.

Economic Benefits:

Waste pyrolysis generates high-value by-products such as tar and carbon black. Moreover, it decreases the dependence of local communities on external sources of energy, contributing significantly to the economic well-being of the region. The technology thus brings substantial economic benefits at the local level.


The MSW pyrolysis technology not only reduces environmental pollution during the garbage management process but also maximizes resource utilization. GEMCO Energy collaborates with several domestic research institutions and universities, leveraging the current research achievements in urban pollution control technology to provide advanced MSW pyrolysis solutions to its customers.

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