Government Technology

Sacramento Investigates Plasma Gasification for Waste Management



January 7, 2009 By

Click HERE for larger version of graphic

 

"Why don't they just fill a rocket full of garbage and shoot it at the sun?" Many who want to reduce pollution but have a flimsy grasp on rocket science and economics have asked this question. But what if such a feat could be accomplished without a rocket? That's essentially what plasma gasification is designed to do.

Plasma gasification is the process of breaking down matter at the atomic level by exposing it to high temperatures. Gasification isn't combustion or incineration. Those processes result in unpleasant, toxic byproducts. Gasification uses extreme heat, in the form of plasma arcs, to reduce matter to its basic elements.

Superheated plasma is nothing new. For decades, plasma arcs, which reach temperatures of up to 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit, have been used in foundries to melt metals. However, a few years ago several waste disposal startups in the United States and Japan took notice of a plasma arc technology developed by NASA that produced an arc at temperatures exceeding those on the sun's surface. Any solid matter that came into contact with such an arc would be reduced to nothing more than synthesis gas - or syngas, which is generally carbon monoxide and hydrogen - and an inert slag.

Video: City Manager Ray Kerridge describes Sacramento, Calif.'s plan to vaporize solid waste.

It turns out the syngas can be used to produce useful products like diesel and methanol or separated and sold to industries that use hydrogen and carbon monoxide in manufacturing. The slag also has several applications, such as asphalt and tile production. In addition, syngas must be cooled before it's stored. The cooling process results in considerable amounts of steam, which can run the turbine that powers the plasma arc to begin with.

Sacramento, Calif., is considering constructing a plasma gasification plant in which to dump garbage. In addition to its own landfills, Sacramento currently sends tens of thousands of tons of waste to landfills in Nevada, a costly process that's neither sustainable nor environmentally friendly. In February 2008, the city began negotiations with Sacramento-based U.S. Science and Technology (USST) to possibly make Sacramento the first American city to build a plasma gasification plant to treat waste.

 

Greening With Garbage

"Sacramento has long been on record as being a sustainable and green city," said Jim Rinehart, Sacramento's economic development manager. "So one of the notions to support that premise of making Sacramento, the most sustainable city in the nation was to look at our municipal solid waste activities and see if we can improve upon them."

Rinehart said in late 2007 the city issued an RFP for alternatives to the city's existing waste-management policy. There were 11 respondents. One of them was USST, which proposed a plasma arc gasification procedure that would convert municipal solid waste to energy and products the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has deemed to be safe roadbed material - all with no or few emissions.

Several gasification plants are already operating in Japan, gasifying up to 280 tons of solid waste every day. Of course, all this sounds too good to be true. Why aren't we already doing it?

David Prinzing, vice president and chief engineer of USST, said the holdup is due to the usual suspects: politics and economics.

"There are a lot of vested interests or special interest groups around municipal solid waste, and so introducing change can be difficult," Prinzing said. "It takes time. Then, on the economics side, I


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Comments

RT, Marietta, Georgia    |    Commented January 9, 2009

Perhaps the way to gain support for this project is to approach it as a "challenge" to the City of San Francisco. In other words, Sacramento can prove it can out-tech ... San Francisco.

RT, Marietta, Georgia    |    Commented January 9, 2009

Perhaps the way to gain support for this project is to approach it as a "challenge" to the City of San Francisco. In other words, Sacramento can prove it can out-tech ... San Francisco.

RT, Marietta, Georgia    |    Commented January 9, 2009

Perhaps the way to gain support for this project is to approach it as a "challenge" to the City of San Francisco. In other words, Sacramento can prove it can out-tech ... San Francisco.

RM, Sacramento, CA    |    Commented January 13, 2009

Municipal competition is mostly an ego fest that mostly benefits prime contractors. This article gives no info on start-up costs (land purchase, construction, consulting, management and staffing, EIR, etc.). There is no market for slag which might mean the waste from this system will also have to be stored or buried. The gas output may or may not have a market. Developing markets/ selling and marketing also have a cost. What are the public safety issues? It IS shameful for any municipality to not have to live with it's own waste, so this may be a beneficial option but as citizens who are going to PAY before during and after, Sacramentans need to have the WHOLE balance sheet not just the gee whiz isn't technology magic version of the story.

RM, Sacramento, CA    |    Commented January 13, 2009

Municipal competition is mostly an ego fest that mostly benefits prime contractors. This article gives no info on start-up costs (land purchase, construction, consulting, management and staffing, EIR, etc.). There is no market for slag which might mean the waste from this system will also have to be stored or buried. The gas output may or may not have a market. Developing markets/ selling and marketing also have a cost. What are the public safety issues? It IS shameful for any municipality to not have to live with it's own waste, so this may be a beneficial option but as citizens who are going to PAY before during and after, Sacramentans need to have the WHOLE balance sheet not just the gee whiz isn't technology magic version of the story.

RM, Sacramento, CA    |    Commented January 13, 2009

Municipal competition is mostly an ego fest that mostly benefits prime contractors. This article gives no info on start-up costs (land purchase, construction, consulting, management and staffing, EIR, etc.). There is no market for slag which might mean the waste from this system will also have to be stored or buried. The gas output may or may not have a market. Developing markets/ selling and marketing also have a cost. What are the public safety issues? It IS shameful for any municipality to not have to live with it's own waste, so this may be a beneficial option but as citizens who are going to PAY before during and after, Sacramentans need to have the WHOLE balance sheet not just the gee whiz isn't technology magic version of the story.

Anonymous    |    Commented January 14, 2009

This is a great article! It provides phenomenal information about the technology and some insights to project that we in Sacramento were not able to get from the Sacramento Bee's one-sided, negative opinion. From what I understand, this project will be getting rid of our community's post-recycled waste problem by taking care of it locally and producing a variety of environmentally-friendly products in the process such as inert slag, electricity, and even alternative fuels without increasing our tipping fees or asking us to invest financially in the project. This is amazing! I think this is just what we, Sacramentans, need to help our suffering economy, unstable public health, and to get rid of our title as the nation's number one polluter as I've shamefully seen on planethazard.com - (http://planethazard.com/phmapenv.aspx?mode=topten&area=national). We have been so dependent on the old way of doing things with the companies that have only provided us with liabilities and deficits; I think it is time for a change. In addition to the financial situation, it is great that this company proposing the technology and solution to us is willing to take all of financial risk on their shoulders for us at no additional cost to us. From what I understand they only need the waste to make the facility work, and as a Sacramento citizen, I am embarrassed that we are diverting our waste problems and responsibilities to other states; no matter how much it costs. In comparison, this facility can actually help us make money as the city manager pointed out in the video. Slag, by itself, has an immense market; it can be used for road beds, construction materials, insulation, tiles, countertops, etc. What company these days would not want to use new recycled products such as inert slag that this facility can generate, to get an edge in their businesses and to provide an environmental solution to their customers who are so accustomed to viewing construction as being environmentally negative? In further reading I noticed that the gas produced by the facility will be used to create electricity and alternative fuels, and living in Sacramento for twelve years, I can tell you there is a huge demand and market for both of them; more importantly the electricity and alternative fuels won't be coming from unpredictable oil but from our own highly certain waste. In our community gas prices have fallen, but I can't help but notice that they are gradually making their way back up again even as the price per barrel remains low. So this opportunity with our waste can also help us reduce our dependency on foreign oil? I think that speaks for itself, and to have our community, Sacramento, lead the way for our nation would be remarkable! I'm tired of having our community be the forefront of criminal activity, economical degradation, environmental humiliation, biased journalism, and unstable bureaucracy. I think we may be asking the wrong questions in our community; I think we can utilize this chance to ask questions about how this opportunity can help further in our future and help bring Sacramento back in the respectable light it once was in. I think we can.

Anonymous    |    Commented January 14, 2009

This is a great article! It provides phenomenal information about the technology and some insights to project that we in Sacramento were not able to get from the Sacramento Bee's one-sided, negative opinion. From what I understand, this project will be getting rid of our community's post-recycled waste problem by taking care of it locally and producing a variety of environmentally-friendly products in the process such as inert slag, electricity, and even alternative fuels without increasing our tipping fees or asking us to invest financially in the project. This is amazing! I think this is just what we, Sacramentans, need to help our suffering economy, unstable public health, and to get rid of our title as the nation's number one polluter as I've shamefully seen on planethazard.com - (http://planethazard.com/phmapenv.aspx?mode=topten&area=national). We have been so dependent on the old way of doing things with the companies that have only provided us with liabilities and deficits; I think it is time for a change. In addition to the financial situation, it is great that this company proposing the technology and solution to us is willing to take all of financial risk on their shoulders for us at no additional cost to us. From what I understand they only need the waste to make the facility work, and as a Sacramento citizen, I am embarrassed that we are diverting our waste problems and responsibilities to other states; no matter how much it costs. In comparison, this facility can actually help us make money as the city manager pointed out in the video. Slag, by itself, has an immense market; it can be used for road beds, construction materials, insulation, tiles, countertops, etc. What company these days would not want to use new recycled products such as inert slag that this facility can generate, to get an edge in their businesses and to provide an environmental solution to their customers who are so accustomed to viewing construction as being environmentally negative? In further reading I noticed that the gas produced by the facility will be used to create electricity and alternative fuels, and living in Sacramento for twelve years, I can tell you there is a huge demand and market for both of them; more importantly the electricity and alternative fuels won't be coming from unpredictable oil but from our own highly certain waste. In our community gas prices have fallen, but I can't help but notice that they are gradually making their way back up again even as the price per barrel remains low. So this opportunity with our waste can also help us reduce our dependency on foreign oil? I think that speaks for itself, and to have our community, Sacramento, lead the way for our nation would be remarkable! I'm tired of having our community be the forefront of criminal activity, economical degradation, environmental humiliation, biased journalism, and unstable bureaucracy. I think we may be asking the wrong questions in our community; I think we can utilize this chance to ask questions about how this opportunity can help further in our future and help bring Sacramento back in the respectable light it once was in. I think we can.

Anonymous    |    Commented January 14, 2009

This is a great article! It provides phenomenal information about the technology and some insights to project that we in Sacramento were not able to get from the Sacramento Bee's one-sided, negative opinion. From what I understand, this project will be getting rid of our community's post-recycled waste problem by taking care of it locally and producing a variety of environmentally-friendly products in the process such as inert slag, electricity, and even alternative fuels without increasing our tipping fees or asking us to invest financially in the project. This is amazing! I think this is just what we, Sacramentans, need to help our suffering economy, unstable public health, and to get rid of our title as the nation's number one polluter as I've shamefully seen on planethazard.com - (http://planethazard.com/phmapenv.aspx?mode=topten&area=national). We have been so dependent on the old way of doing things with the companies that have only provided us with liabilities and deficits; I think it is time for a change. In addition to the financial situation, it is great that this company proposing the technology and solution to us is willing to take all of financial risk on their shoulders for us at no additional cost to us. From what I understand they only need the waste to make the facility work, and as a Sacramento citizen, I am embarrassed that we are diverting our waste problems and responsibilities to other states; no matter how much it costs. In comparison, this facility can actually help us make money as the city manager pointed out in the video. Slag, by itself, has an immense market; it can be used for road beds, construction materials, insulation, tiles, countertops, etc. What company these days would not want to use new recycled products such as inert slag that this facility can generate, to get an edge in their businesses and to provide an environmental solution to their customers who are so accustomed to viewing construction as being environmentally negative? In further reading I noticed that the gas produced by the facility will be used to create electricity and alternative fuels, and living in Sacramento for twelve years, I can tell you there is a huge demand and market for both of them; more importantly the electricity and alternative fuels won't be coming from unpredictable oil but from our own highly certain waste. In our community gas prices have fallen, but I can't help but notice that they are gradually making their way back up again even as the price per barrel remains low. So this opportunity with our waste can also help us reduce our dependency on foreign oil? I think that speaks for itself, and to have our community, Sacramento, lead the way for our nation would be remarkable! I'm tired of having our community be the forefront of criminal activity, economical degradation, environmental humiliation, biased journalism, and unstable bureaucracy. I think we may be asking the wrong questions in our community; I think we can utilize this chance to ask questions about how this opportunity can help further in our future and help bring Sacramento back in the respectable light it once was in. I think we can.


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