5 Disadvantages of Energy Recovery Explained

Disadvantages of energy recovery are; capital and operational cost, material specification, technological immaturity, low adoption, knowledge requirement, complexity, and unfavorable public reception.

This article discusses the disadvantages of energy recovery, as follows;



1). High Capital and Operational Cost (as one of the Disadvantages of Energy Recovery)

Installation of facilities required for energy recovery is generally an expensive endeavor.

This is due to various factors, including the technological immaturity, level of specification, and complexity of such facilities and equipment.

The problem of high cost transcends the point of purchase and installation. The operation of energy recovery plants is often associated with high maintenance and energy demand, in the form of heat and electricity.

Since renewable energy systems like wind farms, bioenergy units, wave power converters, and geothermal plants are not generally capable of supporting such large facilities, it is more common to use fossil fuel-driven power plants and electric generators.

Using fossil fuels to supply power for waste-to-energy plants, comes with economic liability. In addition to the immediate cost of non-renewable fuel, greenhouse gases, toxins, and general degradation of soil, water and air quality all have implications.

Environmental degradation in the process of energy recovery can only be controlled through active environmental remediation, soil conservation, air and water conservation practices. These all add to the total cost of running energy recovery facilities.

It can be argued that energy recovery from waste is not a sustainable approach to recycling or waste management, because of the demand for energy, in order to convert waste materials to energy products.

The potentials of circular economy, low-cost operation, energy conservation, energy efficiency, and overall sustainability, are low in energy recovery projects, due to the drawbacks mentioned. These drawbacks are experienced in all forms and methods of energy recovery, including hybrid, cogeneration, incineration, pyrolysis and anaerobic digestion systems.

Various efforts have been made to optimize the cost of energy recovery, and make it a sustainable practice. These include modifications of equipment, energy sources and conversion methods, with the aim of increasing efficiency [1].


2). Material Specification

Energy recovery is similar to all forms of conventional recycling, in terms of material specification.

This simply refers to the fact that energy recovery is only suitable across a definite range of material types, complexities and compositions.

Although energy can be recovered from both inorganic materials and biomass, there are significant differences in the effectiveness of various types of conversion for various types of materials.

For example, biochemical conversion can be used to recover energy from organic waste and other materials like biodegradable plastics. On the other hand, biochemical methods are not suitable for inorganic materials like traditional plastics. In such cases, thermal methods are more suitable.

What this means is that composite feedstock (comprising of various types of materials) cannot be subjected to energy recovery, with successful results.

Rather, energy recovery is only effective where the feedstock has been sorted or separated into various categories [4].

The need to specify materials and select suitable equipment/methods in energy recovery, reduces versatility, measurability and efficiency.

Sorting of feedstock is time-consuming and may add to the cost of recovery. Also, material specification implies that the performance and output-quality of energy recovery, will not always be optimal.


3). Technological Immaturity and Low Adoption

Some evaluations have described energy recovery as a mature technology.

While this is true for some aspects and methods, it does not apply to all areas, and neither to the practical application and optimization of energy recovery technologies.

Energy recovery can be categorized among sustainable development initiatives like carbon capture and storage, which aim to protect the environment and boost the economy by addressing issues that border around resource depletion, climate change and global warming [3].

Like most of these initiatives, energy recovery is yet to be fully established, optimized and adopted. The implementation of energy recovery principles and systems is mostly in developed countries, whereas developing countries are generally unable to adopt them due to technical, economical and social barriers.

Another undeniable fact is that energy recovery is yet to become an effective approach for energy conservation. Although the idea of energy recovery is to minimize wastage, it is not known to have significant conservative capabilities with regards to capturing and utilizing waste energy under practical conditions.

There are limitations in the ability to convert and utilize the recovered energy for electricity generation with turbines, or other equipment. As a result, energy recovery cannot be said to be a practically-effective approach in manufacturing or other industrial functions.

Factors like material specification and relative low versatility can be used to explain some of the current limitations of energy recovery technology. These problems are being addressed with innovative efforts to optimize sustainability and performance of ER systems [2].


4). Knowledge Requirement and Complexity

The installation, operation and maintenance of energy recovery systems all require significant technical knowledge and expertise.

This is a limitation to the use of such systems, as it restricts the handling of energy recovery processes to expert operators.

Disadvantages of Energy Recovery: Knowledge Requirement and Complexity (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy 2011)
Disadvantages of Energy Recovery: Knowledge Requirement and Complexity (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy 2011)


5). Unfavorable Public Reception and Cooperation

Public reception of the energy recovery initiative has not been generally positive.

This is a result of the socioeconomic effects of other disadvantage of energy recovery, like low technological maturity, material specifications, and performance limitations.

Because public reception determines adoption, this drawback has limited the advancement of ER technology.



Disadvantages of energy recovery are;

1. High Capital and Operational Cost

2. Material Specification

3. Technological Immaturity and Low Adoption

4. Knowledge Requirement and Complexity

5. Unfavorable Public Reception and Cooperation



1). Ensinas, A. V.; Arnao, J. H.; Nebra, S. A. (2014). “Increasing energetic efficiency in sugar, ethanol, and electricity producing plants.” Available at: https://doi.org/10.5151/BlucherOA-Sugarcane-SUGARCANEBIOETHANOL_53. (Accessed 17 September 2022).


3). Shahbazi, A.; Nasab, B. R. (2016). “Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and its Impacts on Climate Change and Global Warming.” Journal of Petroleum & Environmental Biotechnology 7(4). Available at: https://doi.org/10.4172/2157-7463.1000291. (Accessed 18 September 2022).

4). Zhou, C.; Ging, Z.; Hu, J.; Cao, A.; Liang, H. (2014). “A cost-benefit analysis of landfill mining and material recycling in China.” Waste Management 35. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2014.09.029. (Accessed 17 September 2022).

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