Florida County Plans to Vaporize Trash to Create Electricity

This one’s been all over the place the last few days — my Dad even called about it — so I thought I should take a look. According to the AP (via Wired), officials in St. Lucie County plan to build an installation that won’t burn trash, but vaporize it:

The $425 million facility … will use lightning-like plasma arcs to turn trash into gas and rock-like material. It will be the first such plant in the nation operating on such a massive scale and the largest in the world.

Supporters say the process is cleaner than traditional trash incineration, though skeptics question whether the technology can meet the lofty expectations.

The 100,000-square-foot plant, slated to be operational in two years, is expected to vaporize 3,000 tons of garbage a day. County officials estimate their entire landfill — 4.3 million tons of trash collected since 1978 — will be gone in 18 years.

No byproduct will go unused, according to Geoplasma, the Atlanta-based company building and paying for the plant.

Synthetic, combustible gas produced in the process will be used to run turbines to create electricity — about 120 megawatts a day — that will be sold back to the grid. The facility will operate on about a third of the power it generates, free from outside electricity.

About 80,000 pounds of steam per day will be sold to a neighboring Tropicana Products facility to power the juice plant’s turbines.

Sludge from the county’s wastewater treatment plant will be vaporized, and a material created from melted organic matter — up to 600 tons a day — will be hardened into slag, and sold for use in road and construction projects.

“This is sustainability in its truest and finest form,” said Hilburn Hillestad, president of Geoplasma, a subsidiary of Jacoby Development.

Sounds like a very innovative use of industrial ecology to address burgeoning landfills and rising energy prices. There are critics of the plan, though: the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives claims that Geoplasma is overstating its case of emissions reductions, and that similar efforts have failed. The National Solid Wastes Management Association also believes the technology isn’t proven yet, and questions the company’s claims. (I’ll bet you don’t find those groups on the same page every day!). I’m certainly in no position to judge the feasibility of this technology, but I am glad to see the folks in St. Lucie are going to test it out for the rest of us…

The other question that comes to mind (and, yes, I always find a way to be contrary): does this give us a reason to not worry about our “throwaway” mentality? Yes, there’s plenty of trash already there for use, and we we’ve still got a long ways to go before most people adopt “reduce, reuse, recycle” as their approach to consumer goods, but does such technology, at some level, undermine movement away from disposability as the norm? Just throwing that out there… I think this is a mighty cool concept for the here and now.

Via Huggtwice.

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