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How Modern Garbage Is Morphing into Gas

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Most people want to eliminate waste energy. In fact most people want to eliminate waste, period. But, where some people see lemons, a group of innovative entrepreneurs see lemons…albeit stinky lemons rotting inside garbage bags at municipal landfills.

Yes, there is a move to turn our garbage from waste to energy.

The benefits of turning our garbage waste into energy are obvious. Most municipalities have to pay to put it somewhere. No one likes a dump next door. And landfills release large amounts of methane and other greenhouse gases as their contents decompose.

Reuse for rubbish

In Ottawa, Ontario, Plasco Energy Group uses a patented plasma-gasification system to turn ordinary residential trash into a synthetic gas that can be used to create electricity.

Rather than actually burning the garbage in an incinerator, Plasco's system heats up the shredded garbage until it yields valuable gas molecules to be captured and put to a better use.

Any remaining solids are then melted down to be used by the construction industry, leaving only about 2% as actual waste. Plasco estimates that for every tonne of waste, they can produce a MWh of electricity, 300 liters of water, 7-15 kg of recyclable metal, and 150 kg of construction aggregate.

Already taking-hold…

Their system seems to be catching on too: Plasco recently got a $140 million boost to fund additional projects in Canada, the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and China.

In the oil-rich province of Alberta, the city of Edmonton is partnering with Enerkem to divert at least 100,000 dry tonnes of garbage each year into the production of ethanol.

The plant – set to open in 2012 – could produce up to 36 million litres of ethanol each year from household garbage, and it will mean that Edmonton will keep about 90% of its garbage out of landfills through this new initiative plus recycling and composting.

Not only will the new technology reduce landfill waste, but over the 25-year life of the plant, Edmonton will reduce its greenhouse gas emission by more than 6 million tonnes.

Reusing the other kind of human waste

As long as we're cleaning up waste to produce energy, why not use human liquid excrement to make hydrogen?

Research at Ohio State University has led to technology that can remove ammonia and urea from urine, leaving only water, nitrogen and hydrogen which can be used as an energy source.

The lead researcher has spun this discovery off into a company called E3 Clean Technologies that is offering a GreenBox wastewater treatment system to cities looking to recoup some energy from their system.

Another example of keeping wasted energy from being flushed down the drain.


Written by: Graeme Stemp-Morlock