Clean fuels from municipal solid waste for fuel cell buses in metropolitan areas

Eric D. Larson, Ernst Worrell, Jeffrey S. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Increasing volumes of municipal solid waste (MSW) pose disposal problems for many cities. Costs are rising as landfilling becomes more difficult. The production of clean transportation fuels (methanol or hydrogen) from MSW is one economically and environmentally promising option for dealing with these problems. An attractive feature is that elimination of essentially all air pollutant emissions is inherent in the process. Current and future air emissions standards should be easily met. Methanol or hydrogen used in fuel cell vehicles (FCV) can help address problems of deteriorating urban air quality due to vehicle pollution and heavy dependence of the transport sector on imported petroleum. Buses are initial targets for commercial application of fuel cells. Coupled with FCVs, MSW could become a major transportation energy resource. For example, less than 25% of New York City's MSW supply would be sufficient to produce the methanol or hydrogen needed to fuel the entire city's bus fleet, if the buses were fuel cell powered. Estimated breakeven tipping fees required for hydrogen or methanol from MSW to compete with the cost of these fuels made from natural gas today are $52 to $89/raw tonne MSW for hydrogen and $64 to $104/raw tonne MSW for methanol (in 1991$), depending on the gasification technology considered. For comparison, the average tipping fee today in New York City is $74/tonne (1991$). Because of the high fuel economies expected for fuel cell buses, total lifecycle costs per bus-km could be lower than for conventional diesel-engine buses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-298
Number of pages26
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Economics and Econometrics


  • buses
  • fuel cells
  • gasification
  • hydrogen
  • methanol
  • municipal solid waste


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