Monday, January 12, 2009

The Power In The Trash

Europe, Asia, and Canada now have facilities or are planning facilities that will make a relic out of the ugly landfill of everyday waste.

Waste is being vaporized into methane gas and the more advanced waste recovery facilities have even begun to turn waste into electric power.

Converting trash to power became a reality in Australia last July. The $49 million dollar Macarthur Resource Recovery Park in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, began taking garbage from 300,000 people in the area.

Instead of 9000 truckloads of waste going into landfills, 8% of Sydneys annual garbage each year is now being sent to its new waste treatment plant. The plant was designed to produce methane gas from garbage-chewing microbes. The gas powers the plant and even sends enough electricity back into the grid to light up another 1700 households.

Meanwhile, another process in creating power from everyday trash, called plasma gasification will be coming to America. St. Lucie County, Florida will use this process on its waste in early 2011.

Indeed, creating power from American trash cannot start soon enough since every year 130 million tons of trash are dumped in ugly and odorous landfills. In fact, American waste dumps emit more of the greenhouse gas called methane than any other human-related source.

Plasma gasification is a process for blasting garbage with a stream of superheated gas, known as plasma. When trash is dropped into a chamber and heated to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, its organic components, food, fluids,and paper vaporize into a hot, pressurized gas.

The whole process needs power from the electrical grid to get started. However, once the cycle is under way, the new gas is fed into a cooling system, generating steam that drives turbines to produce electricity. About two thirds of the power is siphoned off to run the converter; the rest can be used on-site for heating or electricity, or sold back to help power the utility grid.

The system is capable of breaking down pretty much anything except nuclear waste, the isotopes of which are indestructible. The by-products are used as a raw material for numerous applications, including bathroom tiles and high-strength asphalt.

It has been estimated that in an average American city, an investment in a $250 million dollar plasma gasification trash converter would pay for itself in just ten years. So, an economic justification for the program is sound, the technology is viable and the process meets an important environmental need.

As a result, landfills are about to become a thing of the past as our waste is turned into gas. Who would have ever thought that there would be power in the trash.

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