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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Plasma Incinerator

Air Date: Week of

What good can come out of 3,000 tons of trash? With new technology, about 160 megawatts of electricity. Jen Percy reports.



PERCY: Banana peels, old diapers, used napkins, they’re useless right? Ever thought that Snicker’s wrapper you just threw away might be used to power your home? Or to build roads?

Plans are underway to build a facility in Florida that will convert 3,000 tons of trash a day into energy and construction materials. Geoplasma, the company in charge of the project, says trash at the facility will be loaded onto a conveyor belt and dumped into an incinerator where it will burn at temperatures of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s as hot as the outer layer of the sun.

The incinerator uses plasma-arc technology to maintain such high temperatures. In the incinerator, two electrodes create an arc where air, under high pressure, is added to produce plasma or ionized gas. The incinerator will operate twenty-four hours a day and require no additional electric energy after startup—just a steady supply of junk. Emissions will come from the synthetic gas turbine but scientists expect it will release less carbon dioxide than a natural gas turbine.

The facility is expected to produce eight times more energy than it will consume.
Any combustible gas released will run turbines and create 160 megawatts of electricity a day—that’s enough to power more than 12,000 homes. As an added bonus, the inorganic garbage will solidify into material that can be used to build roads. Facilities in Japan and Ohio are using similar technologies on a smaller scale.

Critics, however, remain skeptical. Many doubt that current technology can reduce large amounts of trash. And because an incinerator relies on a steady supply of garbage, some worry communities will be more wasteful. But Geoplasma says their environmentally friendly incinerator will not only help solve our energy needs but will also make landfills the dumping grounds of the past.

And that's this week's Note on Emerging Science, I'm Jennifer Percy.



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