A Tech-based Energy Idea That I Like – Municipal Plasma Furnaces

From Cringley:

The challenge of the Day Cycle is profound: to solve at once the problems of how to power our society and what to do with all of our garbage, all without making the world worse for the effort, which is to say without increasing the problems of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
Eric and Andrew Day propose going back to burning our trash, but instead of using open-air incinerators or even high-temperature Basic Oxygen furnaces, they like the idea of burning our crap in electric plasma furnaces at temperatures in excess of 15,000 degrees Celsius. Take everything that would have gone to the landfill, add to it, if you like, everything that would have been recycled, and even leave in the really bad stuff like medical waste, toxic waste, heavy metals, and radioactive waste. Grind it all up into little chunks, some of which could be in a chemical or water slurry, and pump it into the plasma furnace.
Dividing 251 million tons of municipal trash by 365 days by 100 tons per furnace says we’ll need 7,000 such furnaces to burn all of America’s trash. That doesn’t really sound like a lot of furnaces to me, when you consider that’s about how many landfills we have today and about how many municipal trash incinerators we used to have. Moving to this method of waste disposal and energy generation is a no-brainer… if it works.
Their claimed net production from each ton of municipal solid waste:

112 pounds of hydrogen
55 gallons of biodiesel
a little electricity
926 pounds of oxygen
Multiply all these numbers by 251 million tons of solid waste and convert them, where possible, into equivalent barrels of oil and it comes down to about 2.6 billion barrels per year if all waste treatment facilities were so converted. That’s half of our current oil import volume — enough to substantially destabilize the international oil market if that’s the goal.

If I where a policy maker I would…

1) Very the feasibility of this.
2) Create a Plasma Furnace Finance Corp to help facilitate financing of this for municipalities.
3) Set aside matching funds along the lines of 50% of infrastructure cost to match municipalities investment.
4) Have a special joint Deputy SecEnergy / Deputy SecTreas position to facilitate this through the federal government with a dedicated White Deputy Chief of Staff to keep the President in the loop.

Hmm…perhaps naming the new plasma furnaces after sitting US congressmen would speed the rollout and funding.

6 Responses

  1. This is more than twice as efficient as the current federal standard. Garbage Disposal

  2. Are their any real world installations that are operating day after day that actually show this as a viable process? I’ve read of several installations that were supposed to be operational in 2008, but haven’t heard of any results. Is this a viable process? Denny

  3. Denny, I don’t know of any such installations. I hope we will hear more in the coming year.

  4. Well hello my fello humanist, your a breath of fresh air but unfortunetly thats running low as well…lol, I said years ago just give the govt. half a chance to charge us for the air we breath and they,ll find a way…well guess what, they did and I,m not surprised at all. Anyway back to the subject, I heard years ago about the plasma furnace and I heard it would burn everything down to a harmless ash including radio active waste and that each load would cost about $100, if this is true then what are we waiting for, is there that much greed on this planet that we will destroy the very thing that keeps us alive ? I just don,t get it. I,m starting a colum in our local paper soon and I hope to god someone is paying attention cause we,re living on borrowed time now and unless we act fast we,re in big trouble, get back to me will ya, I would love to publish anything you have to say.

  5. Jim, shoot me a URL to your column when it starts.

    I don’t know why the plasma furnace idea hasn’t taken off.

    I suspect that most environmentalist are are anti-technology/anti-modern-society at heart.

    So to them, things like recycling and reducing overall society’s power consumption are seen as good things. Technology solutions that don’t decrease our quality of living are seen as bad things.

  6. If it sounds too good to be true then it isn’t. If indeed this worked it would eliminate alot of jobs as well as unecessary burecrats. I though a nuclear meltdown was even hotter and our concern was air pollution.
    I though recycling saved resources of raw material.
    This system must utilize MAGIC.
    .First on my list I want buy the vehicle that runs on water and second I will heat my home and dispose of my garbage with my arc furnace

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