Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Plasma Gasification

According to the excellent news source for celebrity gossip, the metro (ottawa edition), Ottawa (the capital city of Canada), is considering a waste-to-energy technology to deal with the MHW (municiple household waste). The technology sounds too good to be true, basically incinerate MHW, (emitting no pollutants into the atmosphere) use the energy produced to make some electricity to run the plant and sell some back to the grid. Check out this article that explains how theoretically this should work and how it's going to save us all. I have yet to find any one in operation in the world and many examples of seriously problematic similar schemes. Some websites point to westinghouse as a leader in this as they have some pretty serious plasma torches already in successful operation in industry, however their website says only "it is widely hoped plasma gasification can be practically applied." Here is a company selling a plasma gasification system that lays out the issue pretty well, and at the end starts talking about 'what ifs' such as "Lets say, however, that the gasification plant doesn't work at all." That doesn't sound like a proven technology that should be employed on a large scale to solve a large problem.
I would love to hear something from someone who knows more about this than me but where does the garbage go then? Assuming conversation of matter, if there are no emissions into the atmosphere and this system gets rid of the mass that used to be garbage where does it go? Don't get me wrong I have high hopes for tech to solve some environmental problems, I just hope that city council has an independent review of this whole idea.


7 comments:

Anonymous Coward said...

Yes obviously that's not going to work. Lavoisier : conservation of matter! I have read about dumps using methane for energy tho. I say instead , we should sell them some Amino-Rx to spray on the garbage...

kamel said...

That's some interesting info on plasma gasification, but I think you're confusing 2 different stories here. The energy-to-waste facility proposed for the Carp Dump that the Metro was reporting (and that I saw on the news a couple of nights ago) isn't a plasma gasification plant. It's a modern energy-to-waste plant that burns garbage to generate steam which is used to produce electricity (i.e. high-temperature combustion, not plasma). There are 4 such plants already in operation in Canada, including one in BC that opened in 1988 and several more around the world.

That said, construction of a plasma gasification testing facility at the Trail Road Landfill, another Ottawa dump, began in September 2006 and testing is scheduled to begin this May, but as far as I know, this isn't the technology being proposed for the Carp Dump.

kamel said...

As for conservation of mass, from the pop sci article: "The only by-products are an obsidian-like glass used as a raw material for numerous applications, including bathroom tiles and high-strength asphalt, and a synthesis gas, or “syngas”—a mixture of primarily hydrogen and carbon monoxide that can be converted into a variety of marketable fuels, including ethanol, natural gas and hydrogen." So, presumably, all matter is accounted for.

rob said...

I think then that this waste-to-energy system like in the GVRD link kamel gave is not carbon neutral. While it doesn't say specifically anything about CO2 emissions there must be some because it is just old fashioned combustion.

kamel said...

No, definitely not a carbon neutral process and CO2 emissions are conveniently kept off the 'what comes out' section in the GVRD link. Is there any tech being developed for industrial CO2 fixation?

Bayman said...

Carbon monoxide? What? As if we aren't making enought of that already...sounds like a step in the wrong direction to me. Not that burying trash is necessarily the best solutio, but burning it so it gets spread around the atmosphere for us to breathe isn't too appealing to me.

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