Let’s explain the technologies involved

Gasification IS NOT Incineration

Incineration is an old and polluting technology used to simply burn household trash and waste. Incineration produces a limited amount of heat and is no longer considered a viable alternative. Many of these old facilities are being upgraded to gasification facilities.

Gasification is clearly the way of the future in both terms of efficiency and the environment.  Gasification is a flexible and clean energy technology that can turn a variety of feedstock into energy, helping to reduce dependence on  carbon based energy sources providing a clean alternative source of electricity, fertilizers, fuels, and other useful by-products.

Gasification in a nutshell

Gasification converts almost any material into a useable and efficient gas (syngas). The syngas can be used to produce electricity directly, via gas turbines, or used to produce liquid fuels, bio fuels, a substitute for natural gas (SNG), or hydrogen.  There are more than 140 gasification plants operating worldwide. Nineteen of those plants are located in the United States. Worldwide gasification capacity is projected to grow 70% by 2015, with 80% of that growth occurring in Asia. There are many companies producing gasification technologies. There are two main types of gasification, Pyrolysis and Plasma Arc.

Pyrolisis

Pyrolysis is a thermo chemical decomposition of organic material at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. Pyrolysis typically occurs under pressure and at operating temperatures above 430 °C (800 °F). The word is coined from the Greek-derived elements pyr “fire” and lysis “separating”. Pyrolysis is a special case of thermolysis, and is most commonly used for organic materials.

The process is used heavily in the chemical industry. These specialized uses of pyrolysis may be called various names, such as dry distillation, destructive distillation, or cracking.

Plasma or Plasma Arc

Plasma arc gasification is a waste treatment technology that uses an electric arc which produces extremely high temperatures (up to 13,900 °C – 25,000 °F).  This is like a continuous lightning bolt and instantly breaks down all material into elemental gas and limited solid waste (slag), in a device called a plasma converter. At these temperatures, most types of waste are broken into basic elemental components in a gaseous form, and complex molecules are separated into individual atoms. The process has been intended to be a net generator of electricity, depending upon the composition of input wastes, and to dramatically reduce the volumes of waste sent to landfills. Depending on the input waste (plastics tend to be high in hydrogen and carbon), gas from the plasma containment can be removed as syngas.

Economic and environmental benefits

Gasifying waste has a number of significant environmental benefits:

  • Dramatically reduces need for landfill space
  • Decreases methane emissions
  • Reduces risk of groundwater contamination from landfills
  • Extracts useable energy from waste that can be used to produce high value byproducts (fertilizers, charcoal, biofuels,…)
  • Reduces use of virgin materials needed to produce these high value byproducts
  • Enhances existing recycling programs
  • Reduces transportation costs for waste that no longer needs to be shipped hundreds of miles for disposal
  • Reduces use of fossil fuels
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