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Earth Power Technology

Plasma Plants Vaporize Trash While Creating Energy 618

Posted by samzenpus
from the Mr.-Fusion dept.
Jason Sahler writes "Recently St. Lucie County in Florida announced that it has teamed up with Geoplasma to develop the United States' first plasma gasification plant. The plant will use super-hot 10,000 degree Fahrenheit plasma to effectively vaporize 1,500 tons of trash each day, which in turn spins turbines to generate 60MW of electricity — enough to power 50,000 homes!"
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Plasma Plants Vaporize Trash While Creating Energy

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  • by houstonbofh (602064) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:17AM (#25743519)
    I am sure this will be deadly for some marine brine shrimp, or something, and will be regulated away. All sensible plans are...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by RuBLed (995686)
      Yes, and what if the plasma leaks through the magnetic fields and consume more and more matter. We're doomed!!
      • by Hojima (1228978) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:49AM (#25743709)
        This process will NOT "create" energy. In fact, I doubt it will have any more efficiency than the current conventional methods of turning trash into useful components. Keep in mind that vaporization of any solids from room temperature it going to take a massive amount of energy. Spinning turbines with the gasses until it condenses is an obvious step to take, but there is a lot of legislation that can be made to supplant the need for more technology. Just take a look at Germany. You can get a hefty fine for putting a can in the bio-degradable receptacle, but those guys have one helluva disposal system.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Frymaster (171343)

          This process will NOT "create" energy.

          seriously. at best this sounds like a marginally novel take on cogeneration [wikipedia.org].

        • This process will NOT "create" energy.

          See, this is my problem with you people who put all your faith and belief behind "science", it just leads to pessimistic attitudes. I mean sure, I know it's unlikely that this system would be the exception to conservation of energy or any other principle of physics, but there's always a possibility that maybe, just maybe, plasma garbage vaporizing is where physics breaks down. So, if you want, I'll let you live in your miserable world where you're always right and nothing exciting ever happens. All I ask is that you just don't disturb me in my world, a world of imagination and possibilities, a world where anything can happen, a world where flying cars, jetpacks and sophisticated sex robots are just around the corner and yes, a world where garbage vaporizes can run amok, producing more energy than is put into them thereby destroying the universe. Screw your science, that's the world I want to live in.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by terjeber (856226)
            Why is it that so many people do not understand the difference between "an open mind" and "a hole in the head"?
            • by dougisfunny (1200171) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:06AM (#25744317)

              Because they don't have open minds.

            • by mcvos (645701) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:25AM (#25744437)

              Why is it that so many people do not understand the difference between "an open mind" and "a hole in the head"?

              A relevant quote I once encountered is: "You need to have an open mind to let new ideas in, but not so open that your brain falls out."

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by pallmall1 (882819)

            All I ask is that you just don't disturb me in my world, a world of imagination and possibilities, a world where anything can happen...

            Neo, there is no spoon.

          • by khing (936015) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:59AM (#25744611) Homepage
            See, I really don't think that the point of this exercise is to create lots and lots of energy, but rather a way to dispose of garbage without making use of lots and lots of land, and as an added bonus, puts some power back into the grid as well.

            These are the kind of energy the world has to seriously consider. Something that solves one problem (reducing the amount of rubbish that ends up in landfills), while also producing useful energy.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by jargon82 (996613)
              This is an excellent point, but consider that almost everything we do consumes energy in some form. There are a ton of ways to recover energy from these processes and doing so would be a good first step. Consider a simple example that should be relevant to quite a few of us geeks: A datacenter full of computers. There is a lot of energy going in there for power and then again for cooling. Several organizations have found ways of using the generated heat to assist in the winter heating of their buildings,
          • by Whiteox (919863) <htcstech@@@gmail...com> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @07:34AM (#25745065) Journal

            Screw your science, that's the world I want to live in

            I am intrigued by your rant and wish to subscribe to your spam.

          • Throw away the products of this process, and, now that they are "garbage", feed them back into the machine. Voila! Free energy forever.

          • by ultranova (717540) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:39PM (#25748037)

            a world where flying cars, jetpacks and sophisticated sex robots are just around the corner

            Jetpacks [wikipedia.org] and sex robots [sybian.com] already exist. It's simply that a jetpack makes it really easy to kill yourself in a spectacular fashion, and sex robots have as much to do with their fictional counterparts as welding robots used in factories do.

            I'd give 20 years, tops, before we have scifi-like sexbots. Since they'll likely come from Japan, they'll be shaped like six-year old girls with tentacles. Whether this is a plus or minus depends on your tastes, I suppose ;).

        • by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @04:13AM (#25744117) Homepage

          Are you saying there's no energy in garbage? I have a box of matches here that says you're wrong.

          The theory behind it is this: If you can take the garbage molecules apart and put them back together in a lower energy configuration then you get to keep the profit.

          • by Colin Smith (2679) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @04:59AM (#25744291)

            One of the problems we are going to face Real Soon, is "Peak Oil". Another is funnily enough "Peak Soil"[1] and yet another is too much CO2 in the atmosphere.

            A plasma turns everything into the basic element and from there to the lowest energy state, so yeah we get plenty of energy out, but it doesn't help so much with peak oil, peak earth or too much co2 in the atmosphere.

            Some of the benefits of pyrolysis however:
            1: Energy is produced.
            2: Liquid fuels can be produced for transport.
            3: Biochar/Agrichar byproducts can be used to improve agricultural soils.

            The biochar byproduct can make the process carbon negative.

            [1] Degradation of agricultural soils.

          • by CubicleView (910143) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @06:02AM (#25744617) Journal
            This solves nothing, once we hit peak trash production then we'll be screwed all over again.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            The fecal molecule forms covalent bond with nylon diaper molecule, spent radiator fluid moves 10 places toward the center of the periodic table, and as it stabilizes to form lawn clippings, theta radiation (assorted bottle caps) is emitted:

            l----------l----------l----------l
            l-169----l-170----l-172---|
            l-Aq------l-Gr-----l-Tx------l
            l-Water-l-Grass-l-Fire---l
            l----------l----------l----------|

            The energy produced is used to power a sterling cycle heat engine, which can produce enough power to run at least 100 mod

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mcvos (645701)

          This process will NOT "create" energy.

          Are you seriously talking about creation of energy in the "conservation of energy" sense? In that case, my reply would be: Duh. But for the sake of the argument I'll assume you just mean that the process requires more than the 60MW those turbines generate.

          In fact, I doubt it will have any more efficiency than the current conventional methods of turning trash into useful components. Keep in mind that vaporization of any solids from room temperature it going to take a massive amount of energy.

          That's exactly what surprised me in this article. I've heard of using a plasma torch to turn toxic garbage into inert waste, which in itself would be extremely useful. But as I've always understood, it was expensive and only cost energy. Getting some energ

          • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:57AM (#25744595) Journal

            I was thinking exactly the same thing - I'm still sceptical, certainly, but the Scientific American story [sciam.com] that's linked from the one above does say that "it will process 1,500 tons of garbage a day, sending 60 megawatts of electricity to the power grid (after using some to power itself).". They're definitely trying to claim that they've found a way to use random waste as a fuel source, which would be a breakthrough if true.

            What worries me is a quick Google of the company. One of the top links is this [blogspot.com] interview with the company president. The fact that he keeps talking about "megawatts of energy per hour" puts my cynicism into overdrive - sure, it's not entirely damning; maybe the engineers are sitting hanging their heads at how the president doesn't understand what they're doing, but when the likelihood of their claims actually being what they say they are is this low, that really isn't who they need at the helm.

            • by mcvos (645701) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @06:18AM (#25744707)

              I was thinking exactly the same thing - I'm still sceptical, certainly, but the Scientific American story [sciam.com] that's linked from the one above does say that "it will process 1,500 tons of garbage a day, sending 60 megawatts of electricity to the power grid (after using some to power itself).". They're definitely trying to claim that they've found a way to use random waste as a fuel source, which would be a breakthrough if true.

              Using random waste as fuel source has been done already. Using random waste as a clean fuel source, now that's really a breakthrough. And if this process works the way I think it does, it should be pretty clean, no matter what you throw in.

              Except for CO2 probably, which is kinda hard to prevent, and rather a big issue lately. I hope they can capture it in something safe. And if they can't, well, CO2 is still quite a lot better than dioxins.

        • by Zashi (992673) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @09:07AM (#25745519) Homepage Journal

          This process will NOT "create" energy. In fact, I doubt it will have any more efficiency than the current conventional methods of turning trash into useful components. Keep in mind that vaporization of any solids from room temperature it going to take a massive amount of energy. Spinning turbines with the gasses until it condenses is an obvious step to take, but there is a lot of legislation that can be made to supplant the need for more technology. Just take a look at Germany. You can get a hefty fine for putting a can in the bio-degradable receptacle, but those guys have one helluva disposal system.

          Way to have no idea what you're talking about. I've read several articles [popsci.com] on this process and the man behind it.

          Yes, it takes a lot of energy to start the reaction and form the initial plasma. Once it is started, however, as long as it is fed fuel (garbage, or any compound matter), the reaction will continue. The process completely breaks apart whatever is fed to it into its elementary components, thus effectively neutralizing virtually every known toxin and hazardous substance, the only exception is radioactive elements which cannot be broken down any further without undergoing a nuclear reaction.

          Regarding energy output, this method produces energy in the form of heat from the plasma itself which can be harnessed and it produces syngas. Both of which are useful. this process has been in trials for some time now and has been proven to work. The reason everyone isn't running to it is that the plants are expensive to build, and never been done wide scale before. It's a new tech that the people with cities to run and people to protect are dubious about. New York and Ottawa Canada both plan on having plasma gasification plants, afaik.

          Think of it like a really big fire. To start a fire a lot of initial energy is needed. Once it is started, it will keep going as long as it has fuel. The bonds in all molecules contain energy. This process breaks those bonds and release the energy and the result of the process is salable, environmentally friendly materials.

    • by Architect_sasyr (938685) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @04:48AM (#25744243)
      My first thought was more directed towards destroying people without a trace. Push a guy into the machine and voila, no traces.
    • Re:Slow down... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by drix (4602) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @08:26AM (#25745299) Homepage

      I hate to be that guy on /. who can't take a joke, but... brine shrimp have a really important niche role in the food chain. This is a bit of an oversimplification, but basically without brine shrimp and things like it, there would be none of the larger tasty fish that we like so much to eat so much. This is why it drives conservationists nuts when people bitch and moan about environmental regulations aimed at protecting something which seems insignificant to the layperson. You fail to see the interconnectedness of it all.

  • by Anpheus (908711) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:17AM (#25743523)

    Most of what we produce, most 'trash' is going to be hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. So I have to wonder, is this 'burning' it, or is it going to be producing diatomic hydrogen and oxygen? Does anyone have any experience with plasma gasification that could explain why this wouldn't produce unwanted byproducts from the gaseous components cooling down?

    • by master5o1 (1068594) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:35AM (#25743625) Homepage
      Hey, as long as it's not Carbon. Because we all know that Carbon is bad. Oxygen is good. Hydrogen, however explosive it might be, is still good because we can mix Oxygen and Hydrogen to make water, which we need. So as long as we don't have Carbon... because Carbon is damn evil. Die Carbon you element of satan! (I think I overshot my moderation target)
    • by evilad (87480) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:58AM (#25743749)

      You got it. Supposedly at those temperatures, no molecule complex enough to be harmful will survive.

      Of course, that doesn't much help with any metals that happen to get vaporized in there with it... but everyone needs a little more zinc in their diet anyhow.

      • by teh kurisu (701097) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:10AM (#25744339) Homepage

        That's fine, but what about when you reach the end of the process and the atoms/molecules start to cool down? Unless you separate them out, they're going to start to react.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jcr (53032)

      most 'trash' is going to be hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen.

      Don't forget the Nitrogen.

      Conventional incinerators tend to create nitrates as a byproduct. Hopefully this extremely high temperature will avoid that problem.

      -jcr

    • by ElHorrendo (726369) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @07:17AM (#25744987)
      Some simple facts to explain why it works:
      1. Garbage contains a lot of energy (hydrocarbons in plastics, rubber, food, paper, etc).
      2. Garbage contains some metals (aluminum, iron, copper, zinc, nickle, etc).
      3. Garbage contains a far amount of inert material (earth, ceramics, etc).

      So, you run everything through a big grinder, feed the dust to an electric torch which turns it into plasma, which of course breaks all those fancy compounds down into simpler elements:
      1. Hydrocarbon gas - synthgas (methane like stuff).
      2. Steam -- the water trapped in plant materials mostly (grass clippings, banana peals, stuff like that).
      3. Metallic gas - which you can optionally separate by element if you have the right equipment.
      4. Slag - inert silica mostly, mixed with other crud (which you can use as building materials).

      Important thing to remember is the electric torch doesn't burn the garbage -- burning is inefficient and pointless. You want to separate all the various elements so you can make efficient use of them:
      1. The hydrocarbons are pull off as synthgas, which you use some of to run a generator to power the torch and the surplus you sell to a conventional natural gas power planet for profit!
      2. The steam which you separate and sell to as heat for commercial or residential use.
      3. The metals you sell as scrap -- either high or low quality depending on your ability to separate the elements from the plasma.
      4. The silica slag you can mold into pavers while it's still hot, or spin into a ceramic like wool as insulation, or into black pebbles as ground cover or whatnot.

      The process has a number of advantages:
      1. It is profitable -- it produces more energy than it consumes.
      2. It's low tech -- you can set up the facility inside the garbage dump and avoid shipping the garbage around.
      3. It sterile -- it consumes medical waste, contaminated material, toxic junk as readily as normal waste and it reduces it all to simple lemony fresh clean compounds (makes the birds sing). You can't feed it radioactive material obviously, as that would foul up the works.
      4. It's happy -- converts garbage back into useful things.

      Biggest obstacle has been the patents on the process which expired a year or two ago. Rejoice, garbage is the new valuable resource!
  • Sunshine (Score:5, Interesting)

    by n3tcat (664243) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:20AM (#25743535) Homepage
    10,000 degrees fahrenheit is around 5,600 degrees celcius, which is approximately the surface temperature of the sun.

    If ever the whatcouldpossiblygowrong tag were appropriate...
    • Re:Sunshine (Score:5, Informative)

      by FooAtWFU (699187) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:30AM (#25743601) Homepage

      What could possibly go wrong? I dunno, lots of things. The whole place could catch on fire. Or someone could be electrocuted by equipment on site. Or someone has an accident on a ladder and falls and hurts himself. Or gets in a car crash on the way to work. (That's probably the most dangerous risk right there!)

      What, you wanted something exotic? 5,600 degrees C is weak. A lightning bolt can hit 30,000 Kelvin. Somehow the Earth escapes destruction though!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ben0207 (845105)

        The man whose job it is to monitor the plasma (using 4 mechanical arms powered by an AI) could be struck by a solar flare when the machine goes out of control?

    • Re:Sunshine (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ribuck (943217) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @07:19AM (#25744995) Homepage
      The filament inside an incandescent light bulb is also approximately the surface temperature of the sun.
  • seems a bit stingy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Yurka (468420) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:29AM (#25743599) Homepage

    1.2 kW per household? A hair dryer eats more than this.

    • by Nicolas MONNET (4727) <nicoaltiva&gmail,com> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:42AM (#25743669) Journal

      Do not confuse power and energy.

    • by Warhawke (1312723) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:08AM (#25743799)
      Am I the only person who upon reading the title had the sudden mental image of flora with glowing plasma leaves that devour trash like venus fly-traps devour flies? Whew, I need to lay off the midnight sushi...
    • Technically true... (Score:5, Informative)

      by dj245 (732906) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:14AM (#25743839) Homepage
      The standard conversion is actually closer to 1MW per 1000 homes (1kW per home) on average. When you're running the drier or the electric stove, sure it's a lot more. But if you're just watching TV with a few lights on it is probably closer to a 400W load. The big problem happens around 4:45PM. Businesses are still open, but people have gone home and turned all the lights on. So the load usually peaks around that time. Obviously the grid has more capacity than 1kW per home, but on average this is about the average usage. What does your monthly bill say? If it is around 650-800 kW-hr then you only use about 1kW on average. (I have worked for a large utility and now work for a turbine manufacturer)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mcvos (645701)

      1.2 kW per household? A hair dryer eats more than this.

      May I recommend turning your hair dryer off after you're done drying your hair?

  • Recently? (Score:4, Funny)

    by evilviper (135110) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:41AM (#25743663) Journal

    Recently St. Lucie County in Florida announced that it has teamed up with Geoplasma to develop the United States' first plasma gasification plant.

    Yes, they recently announced that... Just a few couple after the first slashdot story, where they announced it:

    http://hardware.slashdot.org/hardware/06/09/10/0026243.shtml [slashdot.org]

  • by Narmacil (1189367) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:42AM (#25743667)
    FINALLY! The Mr. Fusion is only a few years away!
    No longer will I need Plutonium to generate the 3.3 Jigawatts nessecary to power my Flux Capacitor.
  • by spagthorpe (111133) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:44AM (#25743677)

    From working with a garbage to energy plant in Virginia, they had the ability to generate much more then the 80MW (from memory) they were generating. They had to impose the limit or they would qualify as a utility under the state guidelines, and be subject to regulation. Since the plant was privately owned, and wanted run themselves, they had to let a lot of the power go as heat.

    They would regulate it some by the rate at which the garbage went in, but when it starts backing up, you have no choice but to burn it.

    • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:57AM (#25743745)

      Too bad they couldn't have had a water tap run to their place and use the excess energy to make hydrogen through electrolysis. And than sell said hydrogen. I mean, if it's free energy...

  • Vaporware technology (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:48AM (#25743703) Homepage

    Their web site [geoplasma.com] just screams "vaporware". In fact, the useful-scale project has been cancelled [tcpalm.com], and only a small "demonstration plant" will be built.

    The real questions about this are 1) do they really get out more energy than they put in, and 2) how much processing of the exhaust gases is required? Westinghoue Plasma Corporation [westinghouse-plasma.com] (which, sadly, has little to do with Westinghouse) claims that 1000 tonnes (metric?) of solid waste produces the energy equivalent of 1 (one) barrel of oil. So this isn't a big energy producer. Ordinary waste-to-energy plants do better than that, but don't burn as clean as a plasma arc.

    The other problem is what comes out. Organic compounds are literally blasted apart into atoms at those temperatures, so it deals with biowaste just fine. CO2 comes out, of course. NOx, maybe. Everything heavier (metals, etc.) is supposed to come out as a "molten slag" suitable for cement aggregate. Not sure what the cement industry thinks of this. They're usually quite picky about what's allowed in cement aggregate [cement.org]. Some contaminants interfere with the chemistry of concrete curing and make bad concrete. It might be good for filling in swamps and such.

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:41AM (#25743963) Journal

      Their web site just screams "vaporware". In fact, the useful-scale project has been cancelled, and only a small "demonstration plant" will be built.

      To respond to these two points.
      1. This is an established technology, even though it hasn't been commercial for all that long.

      2. A lot of projects are being cancelled as collateral damage from the mortgage meltown.

      To respond to the rest of your post:
      http://science.howstuffworks.com/plasma-converter.htm/printable [howstuffworks.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MrMr (219533)
      claims that 1000 tonnes (metric?) of solid waste produces the energy equivalent of 1 (one) barrel of oil.
      That has to be a typo. The energy yield in a standard inceration facility is about 2MJ/kg of household waste. (which is roughly 20 times worse than petrol). The 1000 tonnes of waste should be equivalent to about 600 barrels of oil, or this process is absurdly inefficent.
    • by Kintanon (65528) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:46AM (#25747321) Homepage Journal

      For fucks sake. They don't have to get out more energy than they put in damnit.
      They are putting in TONS OF GARBAGE. They are liberating a percentage of the energy that went into CREATING THAT GARBAGE. So while they might feed in the equivelant of 1000MW of electricity in garbage and only get back 100MW of usable electricity that they can send over the grid it's STILL an energy "profit" because otherwise the garbage will just slowly liberate its energy as it rots.
      This does not have to violate the laws of thermodynamics to be an awesome and profitable way to get energy from garbage.

  • by fireman sam (662213) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:52AM (#25743723) Homepage Journal

    A high temperature incinerator was proposed for Victoria, Australia. The "who will think of the children" shot it down and we still have landfill. Here is a link: http://homepage.mac.com/herinst/sbeder/incinerator2.html [mac.com]

    also google for "high temperature incinerator" +victoria

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)

      Except, of course, this isn't an incinerator. It's only outputs are syngas, slag, and heat.

      I absolutely understand environmentalists objecting to incinerators. All you're doing is taking all that carbon, much of which we've pulled from the ground where it was comfortably sequestered, and liberating it so you can dump it into the atmosphere. Definitely *not* my idea of a trash solution.

      But this technology is absolutely clean. Of course, eventually you have to do something with the syngas, but the plant i

  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:01AM (#25743765)

    Still asleep here, so my visualizing of this was:

    "Plasma " ok that's the hot stuff

    " plants " O, the beautiful trees, the nature... hmm, wait a second. Plasma trees? plasma grass?! What the...

    " Vaporize trash " Dear freaking gawd! trash vaposizing red hot trees?!? Scorching grassy plains to vaporise trash on?

    " While creating energy " They are self sustaining?! It's the end of the world! We're all gonna diiie!

  • Could work. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor (664417) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:12AM (#25743829) Journal

    It seams reasonable that a technique like this could get net energy out, since it's essentially a fancy trash burner. There's plenty of energy in trash to extract.

    The slag could be interesting, though. It will few full of evilness and heavy metals. It probably won't be worse than landfilling since the evilness would otherwise be dumped in the same quantities. I'd be suprised if it was useful for construction. I'd expect water based leaching etc to erode the internal structure of it pretty quickly to a point wherre it's a porus, crumbly rock. I may be wrong about that, though.

    Also, it might be easier to refine the slag, since a lot of the annoying bulk waste has been removed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tmosley (996283)
      I would think that they could send it to a refinery, or have one built on site. If they could separate out the precious metals from electronics, that might provide enough income by itself to make it economical.
  • by onemorechip (816444) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:34AM (#25743921)

    Isn't that a Slaver Sunflower?

  • The big question is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The Wooden Badger (540258) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:45AM (#25743975) Homepage Journal

    Does this mean that I will be paid for my garbage, rather than me paying to have it removed? If I have to pay to have my trash removed and then pay to have electricity, I'm calling foul.

  • by Werthless5 (1116649) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:59AM (#25744047)

    Yeah, the potential for exhuming heavy metals and toxins is high if you don't regulate a plant like this (which it would be). However, we love our coal power plants, and they're absolutely disgusting. It's pathetic that we're still building new ones, yet we haven't built a new power plant in over 20 years (but this is supposed to change by 2010).

    Furthermore, landfill trash isn't exactly a valuable resource. I'd much rather pay a little extra and burn away trash then burn coal. Plants like this one (they don't have to use plasma) would be great for helping us transition toward more nuclear and geothermal/wind/solar power.

  • by orzetto (545509) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @03:59AM (#25744049)

    Has anyone done the math and compared the economic value of 60MW of electricity versus the value of the equivalent trash? I suppose you should account for sorting and recycling costs on one side, and for operating costs, plant capital costs and maintenance on both. Unfortunately I have no data on this so I cannot really argue for one alternative or the other.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:07AM (#25744323) Homepage

    I seem to recall a sci-fi/action movie where the sun's energy was used to create plasma which was then used to incinerate trash and create more energy and somehow save the planet or something, but it turned out to be a huge fraud and the creator/owner/whatever business-guy of the project was going to blow it up with the heroes stranded in it before anyone caught on that the project was a huge fraud and drain on public funds... or something like that. It's 3am and I just got up to use the bathroom... what am I doing here anyway?

  • OK - I'll bite (Score:5, Informative)

    by Virtually Sane (1168935) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:10AM (#25744349)
    I do a LOT of work on refuse disposal options, principally for the UK food industry. From the top of my head:- Use of plasma for waste disposal, this is not new, there was a french system proposed a few years ago for disposal of medical waste, looks like pathogens get a bit uncomfortable at tempertaures of several thousands of C. (this is from a New Scientist article, unable to refernce at the moment) The article references syngas, this is usually derived from anaerobic heating (>600oC) of organic matter and was used to make town gas from coal for street lighting. This can be used on food wastes (there is a huge amount in the UK) and run through the Fischer Troupe process to make petrol etc. The downsides :- High pressure - increases capital costs geometrically with scale. Chemical plant - NIMBYS do not like them (what a suprise. ) Process does not like water - food waste is 60% water. Energy intensive (work out how much energy is needed to volitise teh 5 Million tonnes of food waste generated in the UK each year - its a lot). The upsides :- Established and proven technology. Lots of very cheap raw material. Use the energy content of the raw material to dry and vaporise the residue (an approx. 30% energy cost penalty - but the source is cheap) Will consume anything organic, so mixed and contaminated food waste not a problem - will accomodate glass and metal contaminants Best of all, as the plant scales down, there is an exponential decrease in the wall thickness needed for pipework etc. needed, so cost decreases at the same rate. You could have a pallet sized unit getting through a tonne per hour (Perdue University have done this for cleaning up waste at militry bases) for a very worthwhile cost. Note in the UK, landfill costs are now in the region of £60/tonne and rising by £8/year due to land fill tax. God help you if you have to render high risk material prior to landfill, your are then looking at a cost of about £100/tonne. A £25M t/o food plant will easily generate 2000 tonnes of food waste per year. This is significant, given most food manufacturers are operating on net margins in the very low single figures. A back of the metaphorical fag packet calculation showed that we could generate enough petrol from such sources in the UK to meet our commitment to add 5% from renewables to our petrol every year.
  • by sTERNKERN (1290626) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @05:20AM (#25744407)
    The plant used super-hot 10,000 degree Fahrenheit plasma to generate enough power to effectively vaporize 50,000 homes creating 1,500 tons of trash.

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