Turning Garbage into Power

<p>A new technology called plasma gasification may make landfills a thing of the past, and make city garbage collection a profitable service.</p>
June 4, 2008, 9am PDT | Nate Berg
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"The entire thing takes up about as much space as a two-car garage, surprisingly compact for a machine that can consume nearly any type of waste-from dirty diapers to chemical weapons-by annihilating toxic materials in a process as old as the universe itself."

"Called plasma gasification, it works a little like the big bang, only backward (you get nothing from something). Inside a sealed vessel made of stainless steel and filled with a stable gas-either pure nitrogen or, as in this case, ordinary air-a 650-volt current passing between two electrodes rips electrons from the air, converting the gas into plasma. Current flows continuously through this newly formed plasma, creating a field of extremely intense energy very much like lightning. The radiant energy of the plasma arc is so powerful, it disintegrates trash into its constituent elements by tearing apart molecular bonds. The system is capable of breaking down pretty much anything except nuclear waste, the isotopes of which are indestructible. 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."

"In a city with an average tipping fee, a $250-million converter could pay for itself in about 10 years, and that's without factoring in the money made from selling the excess electricity and syngas. After that break-even point, it's pure profit."

"Someday very soon, cities might actually make money from garbage."

Thanks to David Greiman

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Published on Tuesday, June 3, 2008 in Popular Science
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