Plasma Waste Gasification

Landfills are already a huge problem. Humans just keep producing garbage, especially in the so-called high tech societies of the world. We throw away anything, and the crap just keeps piling up. The health risks are obvious, and we won’t get into the environmental implications; simply put, more trash=bad. We need a solution for sustainability.

In addition, much of the waste is practically non-biodegradable. It stays in the environment and at best takes up space, and at worst releases toxins into the ecosystem.

The world already has an excess amount of garbage rotting away in landfills, and we keep making more everyday. Incinerators are not a sustainable solution for waste disposal either because they in turn produce extremely harmful ash and smoke. So are we doomed to sleep in the bed we make?

Enter plasma arc gasification, a technology that’s been around for a while but is still rather nascent and imperfect in the realms of treating MSW (municipal solid waste, or all the crap you throw out that the city collects and dumps in landfills). Companies like Advanced Plasma Power in the UK have already set operational plants up. []

While incineration typically takes place at temperatures below 1000 degrees Celsius and create an array of harmful solid and gaseous byproducts, plasma gasification takes place at temperatures above 5000 degrees Celsius, the temperature of the surface of the sun. In these temperature ranges, solids don’t combust, they simply vaporize into constituent elements.

Plasma is highly ionized gas consisting of positive ions and free electrons in proportions resulting in more or less no overall electric charge. It is thought of as the fourth state of matter, and it’s what you get when you add sufficient heat energy to a gas. Think of it like a bolt of lightning- pure energy.

The process of plasma gasification is fairly simple to explain: MSW is first sorted to recover any recyclables like metal or plastic. The MSW is then shredded to make it uniform and fed into the burner where it undergoes gasification. There are two main byproducts. The heavier metals, etc. cool down and flow off as liquid slag, which then solidifies into a glass-like solid aggregate. The gaseous components consist of a high energy mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide called syngas.

Now, the revenue model is suggested to work like this: The plant gets tipping charges for accepting MSW from the city, and the city should be more than willing to pay because they are supposed to be looking out for the people of the city, and that includes taking out the trash. There is additional revenue from sale of recovered recyclables, and the solid aggregate residue has potential as a construction material. The gas output is cleaned, then used for electricity generation which can run the plant and be sold to the municipal grid. The syngas can then be converted into natural gas or hydrogen for use as fuel.

While this is a really good solution, it is not for the long term. For the long term, we need to put in place a zero-waste system. However, we at The Spirit Rebooted think plasma gasification works great as a damage control measure. The bugs aren’t completely worked out, there are still emissions to worry about, but surely there is a way to safely collect all byproducts without releasing any into the atmosphere. Governments, corporations, or private philanthropists need to put resources into research to perfect this system. Governments need to be pushed to build such facilities outside their major landfills and begin the arduous process of converting all that waste into harmless byproducts. We as a species have already done enough damage, and we need to clean up the mess we’ve made.

So if you know any engineers or billionaires, maybe it’s time to prod them into this direction. The below short video gives a really good overview of what a plasma gasification plant looks like and how it works, and here are some links for further reading.



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