Friday, August 24, 2007

Alternative Energy - Power the Grid with Garbage

What if there was a way to use landfill waste to make electricity? What if with this method a by-product was produced that could be sold for a profit? What if it produced clean and safe steam energy? Would you lobby your local government to give it a try?

Think about your answer because this alternative energy source exists right now. A flagship plant has been operating for the last few years in Utashinai, Japan. And another one is slated for completion by 2009 in Saint Lucie County, Florida.

Atlanta based, Geoplasma, expects to generate 160 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 36,000 homes. And where does the garbage come in, you ask?

Here is the process in a nutshell. The new plant is being built next to an existing landfill sight. They will process 3,000 tons of trash from the landfill and surrounding sources. The garbage is fed into an auger, a machine which shreds it into smaller pieces. These are then fed into a plasma chamber - a sealed, stainless steel vessel filled with either nitrogen or ordinary air. A 650-volt electrical current is passed between two electrodes; this rips electrons from the air and creates plasma.

A constant flow of electricity through the plasma maintains a field of extremely intense energy powerful enough to disintegrate the shredded garbage into its component elements. The byproducts are a glass-like substance used as raw materials for high-strength asphalt or household tiles and "syngas".

Syngas is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide and it can be converted into fuels such as hydrogen, natural gas or ethanol. Syngas (which leaves the converter at a temperature of around 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit) is fed into a cooling system which generates steam. This steam is used to drive turbines which produce electricity - part of which is used to power the converter, while the rest can be used for the plant's heating or electrical needs, or sold back to the utility grid.

The advantages with Plasma Gasification are obvious. Existing landfills would be eaten away to produce much needed energy. The land could then be reclaimed for animal habitation. And at the rate that US citizens produce garbage we would have an endless source of energy without having to drill into the Earth or strip forests and take the tops of mountains looking for coal.

It sounds like the ultimate in recycling and sustainability. I plan to look for future information on the Florida plant and keep an eye on the advancements. I’m wondering about the carbon emissions. I can’t find anything to indicate if they plan to use carbon sequestration. I’ll update everyone if I find anything. In the meantime, here is a list of informative articles on the subject., Tech-faq deserves credit for the section explaining plasma gasification.


Scruffyhippo said...

I totally agree with it, landfill in the UK has reached bursting point and needs new input and answers before space runs out.

Lisa McGlaun said...

This might be the way to go..I saw a number in one of the articles I provided the link to that gave a figure for building one of these plants.

I hope big cities in the US pursue this. It seems like the perfect answer.


Bob Johnson said...

Wow great find, I guess the saying garbage in, garbage out doesn't hold true any more, yea, I hate that sayin!

Lisa McGlaun said...

No, it doesn't Bob. Wouldn't it be great if the plant in Florida performs up to par?

It would solve so many problems all aroud the world to use these types of power plants along with solar and wind to suppliment when we finally catch up with the surplus garbage.

Thanks for your comment,

Agnes Mildew said...

What an interesting concept and I hope that it is as efficient and clean as it purports to be.

In the UK, there are lots of attempts at clean energy, but few of them seem to work, unfortunately. There is a lot of controversy over wind farms which are being placed in ridiculous areas - where there is little wind; where they are an eyesore; and where they create noise pollution to villagers in their vicinity. Even the stats for their efficiency don't support their use, to be honest. A shame.

Our local councils are becoming so bureaucratic with their recycling policies - so much so that some bins are 'bugged' believe it or not, ready to fine some poor unsuspecting person for putting plastic in with glass etc.

However, journalists from the British Media have discovered that most of the recycle rubbish is simply chucked, yet again, into landfill. It appears to be another money-making racket by our beloved government.

I therefore hope that this project comes to fruition and look forward to hearing more about it.

Lisa McGlaun said...


Those are all good points. Thanks for enligtening me about how things are in GB. You know, I've often wondered what happens to our recyclables too. Because, I sort them. Then the truck comes and he dumps them ALL into one opening in the truck. I fear we have the same problem you do..that they go to the landfill anyway.

I hope not. If I learn anything else about the plant in FL. I'll pass on the info.

Great to see you here,

NeoAuteur said...

I say this is a great idea. I hope this will be implemented in California, which is known for both high consumption and high energy usage.

Lisa McGlaun said...

That would be a great idea, Neo. Like Agnes said, I hope it turns out to be as proficient as they say. If it is, every large town should have a plant like this.

Thanks for the comment,

Anonymous said...

Certainly. It was and with me. Let's discuss this question.