January 31, 2007

January 2007 Digest

The Renewable Industrial Revolution

After more than 150 years, the Industrial Revolution is overdue for a major retooling. No longer can we heedlessly combust biomass and fossil resources without consideration for the carbon emissions and potential energy that "floats out the smokestack." But what can possibly replace the status quo paradigm that we have based so much of our energy, industry, transportation, and lifestyle liberties upon?

This BIO "BlogRing" - BIOstock Blog, BIOconversion Blog, BIOoutput Blog, and the new BIOwaste Blog - is intended to help identify the multi-faceted pieces of emerging biomass technologies. - is intended to help identify the multi-faceted pieces of emerging biomass technologies. Like a Rubik's cube, the parts are inextricably linked together, but currently in disarray. By addressing each facet independently, challenging issues will become clear. By shifting perspective, new collaborative solutions can be synthesized. Not just one solution but many, because the ultimate solution for any market will depend upon the resources, ecology, and stakeholders of that market.

Here are their most significant developments of January 2007, organized by blog...

BIOstock Blog--------------
Utilizing Pine Beetle Wood Waste as BIOstock
Japanese wood-to-ethanol facility uses Arkenol process
CHINA: Choosing wood over corn for biofuels production
Low heat gasification converts woody biostock to energy
25x'25 Vision of BIOstock Supply
Food vs. Fuel: Over-reliance on Corn Raises Ag Prices
Celunol produces Ethanol from Wood using Bacteria
BIOethanol converted from pulping liquor
Food vs. Fuel? U.S. Farmers Can Produce Both
Black Liquor Gasification Technology Attracts Volvo Investment

BIOconversion Blog--------------
Biomass: Year-in-Review
Biomass Power Generation using Gasification
ALT Energy Stocks: The Future of Ethanol
FLORIDA: Cultivating a Bioconversion Industry
Low heat gasification technique to convert biostock to energy
Europe's "New Industrial Revolution"
Celunol launches commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Japan
Cellulose Ethanol Market Potential Report
ACORE: President Bush on Renewable Energy in 2007
Apollo Alliance pursues 'green-collar' jobs
Ethanol and Net Energy - EROI
The Renewable Path to Energy Security

BIOoutput Blog-----------------
FAQ: BIOoutput Blog
"Living with Ed" Begley, Jr. in Studio City
CALIFORNIA: Governor Targets Fuel Emissions
Electric cars - a boost for biofuels?
CHINA: Pollution threatens 2008 Olympics
BioButanol from Cellulosic Bioconversion
From Food to Fuel to Fashion

NEW! BIOwaste Blog-----------------
FAQ: BIOwaste Blog
Spinning “Gold” Out of Trash
Southern California Emerging Waste Technologies Forum
The Benefits of Conversion Technologies
Recycling’s “China Syndrome”
Plasma Gasification and Incineration Compared
CANADA: Municipal Solid Waste Disposal Options
CHINA: Pollution threatens 2008 Olympics
Using Algae to Recycle Flue Gas into Biofuels
U.S. D.O.E.: Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gases
CALIFORNIA: Air Resources Board tackles Global Warming
Impact of Global Growth on Carbon Emissions
Enforcing California's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Limits
BIOwaste Energy as Explained on the Energy Kid's Page
Expanded Recycling - a Key to Cutting Fossil Fuels and Global Warming
Mayors seek $4B to fight Energy & Environmental Challenges
MIT/PNNL Plasma Arc Waste-to-ethanol Solution

Each month we provide a similar breakdown of article titles from our favorite "companion" site - Biopact Blog. This list is kept current and is accessible in the right hand column of each of the three blogs.

Please forward a link to this digest to anyone you know who would be interested in keeping track of change that will affect us all. They can add their name to the mailing list on the BioConversion Blog.

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January 30, 2007

MIT/PNNL Plasma Arc Waste-to-ethanol Solution

Plasma arc systems represent the very high heat end of the gasification technology scale generating temperatures at 1,000°C and above to vaporize feedstock into gaseous form. The hotter the fire, the broader the range of odious feedstocks that can be cleanly converted into syngas.

It generally takes about 160 megawatts per hour to feed the energy needs of the plasma arc from which can be derived about 600 megawatts of electricity.

An article about a MIT and Integrated Environmental Technologies collaboration to perfect and deploy the technology was recently written up in Technology Review magazine.

Liquid fuel from common trash: new technology converts municipal waste into ethanol

A new conversion technology takes organic items otherwise headed for the landfill and turns them into usable fuel. The double-punch effect of this technology comes from the fact that it vaporizes organic material, releasing a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which can be synthesized to create other gasses and chemicals. To be used as fuel, the synthesized gas would be converted to ethanol and methanol.

The originators of this technology are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Batelle Pacific Northwest National Labs of Richland, Wash. The technology is now being commercialized by a spin-off of PNNL named Integrated Environmental Technologies, also from Richland, that already works in the waste-to-energy business.

One scientist told the magazine Technology Review that if this conversion process becomes widely available, it could reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil for fuel.

Daniel Cohn, a cofounder of IET and a senior research scientist at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, told Technology Review that with the amount of municipal and industrial waste created in the United States, the new fuels could “replace as much as a quarter of the gasoline used in this country,” the magazine reported.

The process to create ethanol can be used not only for municipal waste, but also agricultural biomass waste. This means that it has the potential to create ethanol without relying on corn plants, which is a large part of how ethanol fuel is currently produced. By using municipal, industrial and agricultural waste instead of an agricultural crop, in theory it is a more reliable source of material.

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January 28, 2007

Mayors seek $4B to fight Energy & Environmental Challenges

In view of the front burner status granted to energy independence, the mayors of the nation have issued calls upon the federal government to insure that climate protection does not become "a poor stepchild." After all, the two are related.

At a recent meeting, the mayors have called for $4 billion in an Energy and Environmental Blog Grant to help cities combat global warming. In addition to mitigation of automobile emissions, steps need to be taken to reduce waste that goes into landfills - a major source of greenhouse gases - and cut emissions from non-renewable electric power generation. Educating urban populations through government-sponsored outreach programs would also be a warranted expense.

US Mayors Call for $4 Billion Block Grant to Combat Global Warming
Cities are on the frontlines of climate change with mayors leading the way. But we can’t do it alone. We need the federal government to be a real partner with us on the issues of climate protection and achieving energy independence. That is why we are proposing an Energy and Environmental Block Grant.
—Douglas H. Palmer, Conference President and Trenton, NJ Mayor

The block grant would provide funding directly to cities and urban counties for programs that: improve community energy efficiency; reduce carbon emissions; and decrease dependence on oil.

To date, more than 372 mayors from all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, have signed onto the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, led by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, where mayors have pledged to take actions to cut their emissions in line with the Kyoto Protocols. Additionally, the Conference of Mayors has held two national energy summits focused on alternative fuel sources and green buildings.

The mayors also outlined three requests of the 110th Congress:
• Establish a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a flexible market-based system of tradable allowances for emitting industries;
• Pass climate-friendly energy and transportation policies; create funding and incentives to help cities in their efforts to curb emissions; and
• Create funding and incentives to help cities in their effort to curb emissions.

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January 26, 2007

Expanded Recycling - a Key to Cutting Fossil Fuels and Global Warming

What is "expanded recycling?"

To governmental agencies and utilities "expanded recycling" means changing regulations so we can move more trash from the black bin into the blue bin... or making more pre-sorted pickups available from multi-family dwellings (apartment buildings and condos). Some (Californian's Against Wastes and other environmental groups) see it as reducing the source of waste - reducing packaging while manufacturing products out of more biodegradable and recyclable materials. To them it also means holding manufacturers accountable for recovering their spent products and reusing their components. Certainly "expanded recycling" is all of these.

But to a growing legion of waste management professionals expanded recycling can also be achieved through biomass conversion technologies (CTs). According to their preferred waste management hierarchy, after the source of waste has been reduced and reused, and as much of the trash has been recycled and composted as possible, the bulk of the residual should be recycled molecularly using clean conversion technologies.

How big is this mountain of residuals? In spite of our best efforts at recycling, it is as big as it was when recycling started back decades ago - roughly 40 million tons per year in California. Why?... because of population growth and expanded consumption of packaged goods. Since most of these goods are imports, reducing or redesigning the source of waste is an unreal expectation without draconian change in consumer behavior and trade regulations.

Isn't halting growth good enough? No - because the only "ultimate" solution now is landfills and they are filling up fast. Los Angeles Co. Department of Sanitations' gargantuan landfill in Puente Hills (13,200 tons per day or approximately 65% of their responsibility) will run out of room within seven years. Their backup site is 200 miles away. That means using a new expensive "waste-by-rail" train system to ship the residuals to the desert. That will require the equivalent of a 3-mile long train each day!

So time is running out. Currently under evaluation for deployment of a new CT facility by the Los Angeles Department of Public Works are a number of suppliers - one supplier using anaerobic digestion, two using waste-to-fuel technology, and six using thermal technology. Using various clean biological and thermal processes they seek to recycle as much as 85% of the residual waste volume by converting it into its molecular components and reforming them into synthesis gas, sugars and oils, low sulfer diesel, and "green" chemicals.

The synthesis gas (primarily CO and H2) could be combusted - but a cleaner more cost-effective alternative would be to ferment it into ethanol or reap the hydrogen - the cleaner air renewable fuel alternatives for ending gasoline dependence. The thermal technologies would also provide a clean alternative source of steam for co-generating electricity.

What relevance is "expanded recycling" to global warming and California's AB32? Landfills reek methane (21 times more toxic than C02 as a greenhouse gas) and although modern landfills capture much of this gas, they have been identified as one of the principal targets of the carbon cap legislation. Other major targets are electrical power plants, oil refineries, and utilities. By using conversion technologies, positive emissions impacts can be made on all of these - fewer fossil fuel burning power plants; less dependence on high-polluting oil and oil refining process; more reliance on cleaner fuel vehicles and hybrids; fewer landfills and cleaner wastewater and solid waste disposal. A side benefit - the use of noisy, polluting trucks and trains to haul trash from sorting centers to landfills will be cut by an estimated 60%.

The utilities - mostly LA/Department of Public Works and LA/Department of Sanitation - need public understanding and support for their efforts to permit and deploy conversion technologies. These people are heroes in my book because in an age of increasing media exploited cynicism they are in the background valiantly solving problems. Warrantless legal battles with local communities and idealists puts a counter-productive strain on problem-solving. These problems are real and their social costs are mounting.

The status quo is the real enemy. We, the public and its media, need to support "our soldiers" on the front line - the utilities.

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January 22, 2007

BIOwaste Energy as Explained on the Energy Kid's Page

The U.S. Department of Energy has an educational service operated by its Energy Information Agency. Since most adults are a lost cause, they have a spritely and simply written lesson site called the "Energy Kid's Page". If you are a science teacher of any age, you might want to direct your students to this reference site. If you want to bone up on how far educators will have to go to turn novices into decisionmakers you might also want to take a gander.

The Energy Kid's Page is, of course, hundreds of pages long. It contains energy facts, history, games, a glossary, and classroom activities. It also has a handy Energy Calculator with common units and conversions.

Here's a sample:
If you bury these items in a landfill, how long would it take them to decompose?
Diaper: 500-600 years,
Cotton Sock: 5-6 months,
Styrofoam Cup: 1 million years or more,
Glass Bottle: 1 million years or more,
Leather Belt: 40-50 years,
Wooden Block: 10-20 years,
Banana Peel: 3-4 weeks,
Paper Box: 1-2 months,
Plastic Bottle: 1 million years or more,
Aluminum Can: 200-500 years.

On the subject of Waste-to-Energy plants
Because of our limited exposure to waste-to-energy plants, we have some negative assumptions about the utility and harmful effects that could be possible. Turns out we are way behind the technological curve when it comes to our deployments of clean waste-to-energy facilities:
Many countries have built waste-to-energy plants to capture the energy in their trash. There are more than 600 waste-to-energy plants in 35 different countries. For example, the use of waste-to-energy plants in some European and Asian countries has grown, in part because they have little open space and few energy resources. The U.S. burns 14 percent of its trash in waste-to-energy plants. Denmark, on the other hand, burns 54 percent.

On the subject of Recycling

Some critics of waste-to-energy plants are afraid that burning waste will hamper recycling programs. If everyone sends their trash to a waste-to-energy plant, they say, there will be little incentive to recycle.

Recently, a study of cities that have both recycling programs and waste-to-energy plants showed higher recycling rates than other cities in the U.S. Why would these cities recycle more when they burn their trash? The results showed that people living in cities with waste-to-energy plants are more educated about municipal solid waste and strongly support their recycling programs.

So, while at first glance, recycling and waste-to-energy seem to be at odds, they can actually complement each other. That’s because it makes good sense to recycle some materials, and better sense to burn others.

It is all about the kids after all. They will inherit the legacy we leave them - and will probably pay for it as well. In the meantime, we need to educate them and ourselves if we are going to, in addition, leave a legacy of hope for their children.


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January 21, 2007

Enforcing California's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Limits

The real, gritty work involved in carrying out what is probably the biggest project in the history of state regulation has begun.
- Daniel Weintraub

Here's a challenge that may put a practical halt to the enforcement of the far-reaching Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

The legislators who passed the bill are displeased with how Governor Schwarzenegger intends to bring companies into compliance with its carbon caps. In short, the Democrats and their environmentalist allies want to force companies within each industry to comply across-the-board with the limits contained in the bill.

The Governor, who signed the bill, sees using a carbon credit program as being a more practical way to implement the bill's provisions. Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee describes it as " a market-based system that allows companies to buy the right to pollute from others who have done more than their share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The idea behind such a market is to achieve the desired amount of reduction without crippling a particular industry or company."

It is incumbent upon drafters of the legislation to realize that resistance to change by those who will have to pay for it will ultimately delay its implementation. Imagine the lawsuits that could pit major industries and utilities (electricity generation, oil and gas extraction, oil and gas refineries, cement production and landfills) against the State. They are trying to comply with the provisions of the bill but are prevented from implementing solutions because of failure of the State to reform antiquated regulations and permitting legislation.

The other obvious unintended consequences - companies will leave the state or be force to cut back rather than be faced with fees that will render them uncompetitive within their own industries. Utilities could easily outsource across state borders. These consequences could prove disasterous for California's tax revenues at the state and local level, depressing employment and adversely affecting labor unions. How does that promote the interests of the Democrats political base?

Unless industry-requested regulations and permitting reforms are passed, companies and utilities can effectively argue in court that the California legislature is hamstringing their efforts to deploy solutions to meet the provisions of this bill.

Weintraub has written an excellent article - excerpts are listed below:

Grit hits the fan on pollution credits
By Daniel Weintraub, Sacramento Bee

California's landmark law to fight global warming by clamping down on greenhouse gas emissions has not even taken effect, and already the Democrats in the Legislature who crafted the bill are at odds with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, if he is re-elected Nov. 7, will be responsible for making it work.

Democrats and their environmentalist allies are charging that Schwarzenegger is breaking commitments made during a long summer of negotiations on the bill, AB 32. The governor, they say, is taking steps that could undermine the state's ability to cut greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020, the bill's ambitious goal.

Schwarzenegger aides counter that the governor is merely trying to position the state's environmental bureaucracy to get a running start implementing the law when it goes into effect Jan. 1.

Behind the confrontation is a fundamental dispute over exactly how California should force its industries to comply with the caps on greenhouse gas emissions as they are phased in during the years ahead.

Democratic lawmakers and most environmental groups want to emphasize state-imposed standards and regulations to limit greenhouse gases.

Industries would be ordered by the Air Resources Board to retool their operations in particular ways to limit the production of carbon dioxide.

Schwarzenegger is not averse to this kind of direct regulation, which opponents characterize as "command and control." But the governor has also insisted that the new regulatory regime include a market-based system that allows companies to buy the right to pollute from others who have done more than their share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The idea behind such a market is to achieve the desired amount of reduction without crippling a particular industry or company.

Now Schwarzenegger has issued an executive order calling on the Air Resources Board, whose members he appoints, to move forward immediately with a market-based system that allows the trading of emissions credits with the European Union and a group of northeastern states that have begun a similar program.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Senate Leader Don Perata have objected, saying the bill they passed contemplated emissions trading only after other, more direct measures were taken.

Perata, in a letter to Schwarzenegger, said the order was "ill-timed and unnecessary," and called on the governor to rescind it. But Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, told me in an interview that Schwarzenegger has no intention of backing down.

"The governor is committed to developing a workable cap and trade system that includes market-based incentives," Kennedy said. She added that the two approaches -- direct regulation and the trading of emission credits -- need to be developed into a comprehensive system that offers industry the flexibility it needs to comply in the most cost-effective manner possible.

"This needs to be seamless," she said. "It will be seamless."

This is only the opening skirmish in what promises to be a long and contentious battle over AB 32. The smiles and hugs and bipartisan press conferences that heralded the bill's passage last month are now history. The real, gritty work involved in carrying out what is probably the biggest project in the history of state regulation has begun.

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Impact of Global Growth on Carbon Emissions

"Business as usual" could could have serious long-term consequences for global energy consumption and carbon emissions. According to a report released by PriceWaterhouse-Coopers (PwC) last month, global carbon emissions from fossil fuels are going to more than double by the year 2050 unless a number of significant policy changes are enacted soon to deploy technological emission reduction measures.

In March 2006, PwC published a report, The World in 2050: How big will the emerging market economies get and how can the OECD compete?, on the rapid growth of the "E7" emerging economies (China, India, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, India, and Turkey). They project the combined economies of these countries could be 25-75% greater than the G7 countries (U.S., Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Canada) by 2050.

The questions unaddressed by that report - what consequences on global climate will that growth cause? What is the need for change?

These questions are covered in a follow-up study, The World in 2050: implications of global growth for carbon emissions and climate change policy released in September. In it, the author provided a baseline estimate of carbon emissions with the current rate of energy efficiency. He then developed five different scenarios incorporating more successively aggressive measures.

It is a sober look at the paths open to us and the need to start implementation. Our leaders must recognize the need to start deploying clean solutions now and adjust them as we go. Civilization cannot afford to squander decades (as we have since the last big oil crisis) holding out for "ideal" solutions. According to PcW:

The analysis also suggests that there could be significant costs to delay, given the time required to develop and implement the necessary technologies and policies. As emissions from the faster-growing emerging economies will almost certainly continue to rise over the next few decades, the G7 economies may need to take the lead in reducing their carbon emissions.

But this should create major new market opportunities, allowing companies in the established OECD economies to specialise in areas of comparative advantage, while their consumers benefit from low cost imports from the emerging economies — a "win-win" outcome rather than "one winner takes all".

A few excerpts:

The World in 2050: implications of global growth for carbon emissions and climate change policy
Report outlines 'Green Growth Plus' strategy that could curb global carbon emissions without significantly reducing long-term economic growth
John Hawksworth, Head of Macroeconomics, PriceWaterhouse-Coopers

The report considers six possible scenarios but focuses most attention on two key possibilities:

• A baseline scenario in which energy efficiency improves in line with trends of the past 25 years, with no change in fuel mix by country; this ‘business as usual’ scenario acts as a benchmark against which to assess the need for change, rather than as a forecast of the most likely outcome; and
• A scenario called Green Growth + CCS, which incorporates possible emission reductions due to a greener fuel mix, annual energy efficiency gains over and above the historic trend, and widespread use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Of the scenarios considered in the report, only this ‘Green Growth Plus’ strategy stabilises atmospheric CO2 concentrations by 2050 at what the current scientific consensus suggests would be broadly acceptable levels.

The chart below shows how it might be possible to get from the baseline scenario to the preferred Green Growth + CCS scenario for global carbon emissions in three steps.

1. A shift to a much less carbon intensive fuel mix through increased nuclear and/or renewables supply (more than doubling the current non-fossil-fuel primary energy share to around 30% by 2050) and reduced fossil fuel.
2. Energy intensity reductions significantly faster than historic trends (2.6% per annum rather than 1.6% per annum, which would reduce carbon emissions in 2050 by around a third relative to our baseline scenario).
3. Significant investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology and capacity of the order of 1.5GtC per annum by 2050, which could reduce carbon emissions by a further 20%, relative to our Green Growth scenario without CCS.

John Hawksworth concludes: "Our analysis suggests that there are technologically feasible and relatively low-cost options for controlling carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Estimates suggest that the level of GDP might be reduced by no more than around 2-3% in 2050 if this strategy was followed, equivalent to sacrificing only around a year of economic growth for the sake of reducing carbon emissions in 2050 by around 60% compared to our baseline scenario".

"But if this is to be achieved, it will take further concerted action by governments, businesses and individuals over a broad range of measures to boost energy efficiency, adopt a greener fuel mix, and introduce carbon capture and storage technologies in power plants and other major industrial facilities".

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CALIFORNIA: Air Resources Board tackles Global Warming

Now that the landmark California Global Warming Solutions Act has been signed, it is time for the state legislature to pass bills that will enable AB32 to be implemented.

Who will execute the act's provisions? Turns out, it will fall primarily on the California Air Resources Board (with the appropriate acronym "CARB").

What industries will feel the heavy breath of CARB? According to Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraug:

The legislation does not limit the air board's discretion in deciding which industries and companies to target. But officials expect that, at least initially, most of the attention will be focused on five major sources of greenhouse gases: electricity generation, oil and gas extraction, oil and gas refineries, cement production and landfills.

Using a health analogy, California's entrenched waste management and wasted energy status quo is the disease - air polluton is the noxious symptom. Private enterprise and public utility deployment of clean biomass conversion technologies (CTs) offers a wealth of cures.

It is difficult to imagine that CARB will be able to levy and enforce fines on companies for failure to comply with their mandates if the target violators' willingness to deploy soutions has been straight-jacketed by outdated waste management regulations and permitting procedures.

Hopefully a motivated CARB will have success bringing some heat on the California Assembly Natural Resources Committee (NRC) within the next few years to free the deployment of biomass conversion technologies. Changing some of the most critical waste regulations has been the responsiblity of the NRC. The sad history of committee inertia over CTs (AB 1090 and AB 2118), which would have legitimized clean CTs in the state years ago, should frustrate CARB as it has the broad range of reform supporters throughout California.

Below are excerpts from Weintraub's excellent column describing the challenge ahead for CARB...

Air board will do the real work on global warming
By Daniel Weintraub - Sacramento Bee Columnist

The legislation California enacted last month to seize for itself a leading role in the fight against global warming is only the beginning of what will likely be five years of intense, behind-the-scenes battles over just how to reduce greenhouse gases to the level emitted in 1990, when California's population and its economy were much smaller than they are today.

AB 32 was titled the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. But the bill does little more than establish the goal of reducing the state's greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below levels now projected for 2020. That's about 174 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which, by volume, is equivalent to filling 64 Empire State Buildings from the lobby to the tower above the observation deck.

Most of the heavy lifting will be done by the Air Resources Board, an 11-member panel that includes 10 citizen regulators and one full-time chairman appointed by the governor. The legislation grants the board extraordinary powers to set policies, draw up regulations, lead the enforcement effort and levy fees to finance it all and fines to punish violators.

The board's first comprehensive plan for how the state will meet that goal is due by January 2009. That document is supposed to spell out how much of the reduction will come from which industries. It will also describe how much of the reduction will be achieved through direct regulation of business practices and how much through a market in which companies can purchase the right to pollute from other firms that have reduced their emissions by more than the required amount.

Chuck Shulach, who is managing the greenhouse gas reduction program for the air board, said the 2009 plan will be a kind of bridge between the general legislation lawmakers adopted last month and the ultimate, detailed regulations that will force companies to change the way they do business.

"That plan is the place in which we will get very specific about which sources and sectors would be regulated in what fashion, and how many tons of reductions we expect to achieve," Shulach said.

The legislation does not limit the air board's discretion in deciding which industries and companies to target. But officials expect that, at least initially, most of the attention will be focused on five major sources of greenhouse gases: electricity generation, oil and gas extraction, oil and gas refineries, cement production and landfills.

The effect of the new rules will not end at the state's borders. The state's utilities, for example, will be held responsible for carbon dioxide emitted by coal plants elsewhere if those plants supply electricity to California. And California companies will probably be free to buy emission credits -- the right to pollute -- from other sources around the world.

These are revolutionary changes, breathtaking in their scope. The technical, legal and regulatory grind to come will represent one of the greatest social engineering projects ever undertaken by state government. It will deserve close scrutiny.

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CALIFORNIA: L.A. Politicians Talk Clean Air

Los Angeles is the nation's crucible for clean air politics.

Its harbors are the nation's largest entry port for fossil fuels, automobiles, and other Pacific Rim merchandise - which are, in turn, shipped via diesel-spewing haulers and trains to the four corners of the North America. Its clogged freeways are a study in idle vehicle emissions. Its oil refineries befoul the air while the concrete-lined L.A. "River" rushes debris and stinking pollution to our oft-tainted ocean playgrounds. Add infrequent rainfall, brush fires, and the seasonal inversion layers that hover over its suburban valleys and you can easily understand why Los Angeles annually ranks highest as the home of the dirtiest air in the country by the American Lung Association.

This was the backdrop to a very convivial evening featuring key L.A. politicians and environmentalists at L.A.'s Museum of Tolerance Theater on October 5th. The topic under discussion - "The Impact of the November Initiatives." It was an opportunity to meet and listen to political stakeholders explain their positions on key environmental legislation before the voters - in particular Prop 87, The Clean Alternative Energy Initiative. The 90-minute panel discussion was video-taped by the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) for eventual airing on television.

The line-ups were impressive. When scheduled Speaker of the California Assembly Fabian Nunez was unable to make it, we were treated to three distinguished substitutes - Assemblymember Fran Pavley (co-author of AB32, the historic California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, Assemblymember Judy Chu (Chair of the Appropriations Committee), and State Senator Debra Bowen (candidate for CA Secretary of State). All represent districts in Southern California. The other slated politicians included L.A. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and my own L.A. City Councilmember Wendy Greuel (District 2).

The environmentalists on the panel included the leaders of The Nature Conservancy (Mark Burget), the Coalition for Clean Air (Tim Carmichael), The TreePeople (Andy Lipkis), and the Department of Water and Power (David Nahai).

There were four proposed state measures that came up repeatedly in the discussion. There was general agreement that voters should support Proposition 1B (the $19.9 billion Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act) to reinforce California's traffic infrastructure. Also supported was the $5.4 billion Proposition 84 (Water Quality, Safety and Supply, Food Control, Natural Resource Protection, Park Improvements Bonds Initiatives Statute).

Soundly condemned was Proposition 90 (the Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property, Initiative Constitutional Amendment). The audience was warned that this was not to be confused with the controversial national eminent domain judgements that the proponents would have us believe. Passage of this amendment would significantly hamstring the state's ability to implement necessary zoning changes to advance public interests.

The main focus, however, was on Prop 87 - for which there was no opposition voiced in the discussion. The local concern for the state of air quality and pollution, particularly in the coastal waters around Southern California's tourist attraction beaches, has trumped any other concern about the efficacy of the bureaucracy the proposition would establish or the impact on business in California. It appears that these politicians, representing every level of L.A. leadership, are hungry to find popular approval for some measures that would otherwise be beyond the reach of Sacramento to even consider much less enact (see CLCV 2005 California Environmental Scorecard).

While 2006 has seen election-year passage of vote-getting environmental and alternative energy legislation - The Million Solar Roofs Plan (SB1) and the CA Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) - the key to true improvement in clean air will come through "boring" regulatory reform and a loosening of advanced technology permitting.

Without reform many of the innovative responses to the mandates of AB32 (such as L.A.'s revolutionary RENEW L.A. plan) will never be implemented. As a result, landfill and wastewater pollution, truncated recycling efforts, inefficient waste management, environmental injustice, and fossil fuel electricity generation - the true clean air challenges - will remain intransigently the status quo.

With reform, innovative business ventures will raise investment capital and begin deploying new technological solutions that will achieve the target emissions reductions of AB32.

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U.S. D.O.E.: Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gases

On September 21st the U.S. Department of Energy released their Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) Strategic Plan which describes broadscope measures that the D.O.E. should pursue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The publication of the study confirms that the U.S. Department of Energy considers "climate change" to be a pressing issue:

As a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United States shares with many other countries the UNFCCC’s ultimate objective, that is, the “…stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system . . . within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” Meeting this objective will require a sustained, long-term commitment by all nations over many generations.

Technologies emphasized for development are hydrogen extraction, biorefining, renewable power generation, clean coal and carbon sequestration, nuclear fission and fusion. Of these, biomass conversion is applicable to all but nuclear fission and fusion.

Below are some excerpts that relate specifically to biomass conversion and syngas technologies:

U.S. Climate Change Technology Program Strategic Plan
September 2006

The Plan sets six complementary goals:

1 - Reducing emissions from energy use and infrastructure;
2 - Reducing emissions from energy supply;
3 - Capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide;
4 - Reducing emissions of other greenhouse gases;
5 - Measuring and monitoring emissions; and
6 - Bolstering the contributions of basic science to climate change.

These six CCTP strategic goals focus primarily on mitigating GHG emissions to make progress toward stabilizing atmospheric GHG concentrations. They are not intended to encompass the broad array of technical challenges and opportunities that may arise from climate change.
—CCTP Strategic Plan

A recent assessment of potential biofuel resources concluded that by mid-21st century it would be technically possible to produce enough biomass to displace about one-third of current petroleum consumption. The study made no conclusions about economic feasibility. This level of biofuel production would require economically-competitive technologies to convert cellulosic biomass (rather than just the sugars and starches) into ethanol, and developing cellulosic ethanol technologies is a central aspect of the Biofuels Initiative and the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative.

Biochemical Conversion of Biomass. Research is required to gain a better understanding of genomes, proteins, and their functions; the enzymes used for hydrolyzing pretreated biomass into fermentable sugars; the micro-organisms used in fermentation; and new tools of discovery such as bio-informatics, high-throughput screening of biodiversity, directed enzyme development and evolution, and gene shuffling. Research must focus on improving the cost, yield, and equipment reliability for harvesting, collecting, and transporting biomass; pretreating biomass before conversion; lowering the cost of the genetically engineered cellulose enzymes needed to hydrolyze biomass; developing and improving fermentation organisms; and developing integrated processing applicable to a large, continuous-production commercial facility.

Thermochemical Conversion of Biomass. Research is needed to improve the production, preparation, and handling of biomass; improve the operational reliability of thermochemical biorefineries; remove contaminants from synthesis gas and develop cost-competitive catalysts and processes for converting synthesis gases to chemicals, fuels, or electricity. All processes in the entire conversion system must be integrated to maximize efficiency and reduce costs.

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Using Algae to Recycle Flue Gas into Biofuels

Algae - like a breath mint for smokestacks

That's the title the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor headlined their story about a bioconversion technology born at MIT by rocket scientist Dr. Isaac Berzin (pictured at right). Here's writer Mark Clayton's description of the base process:

Bolted onto the exhaust stacks of a brick-and-glass 20-megawatt power plant behind MIT's campus are rows of fat, clear tubes, each with green algae soup simmering inside.

Fed a generous helping of CO2-laden emissions, courtesy of the power plant's exhaust stack, the algae grow quickly even in the wan rays of a New England sun. The cleansed exhaust bubbles skyward, but with 40 percent less CO2 (a larger cut than the Kyoto treaty mandates) and another bonus: 86 percent less nitrous oxide.

After the CO2 is soaked up like a sponge, the algae is harvested daily. From that harvest, a combustible vegetable oil is squeezed out: biodiesel for automobiles. Berzin hands a visitor two vials - one with algal biodiesel, a clear, slightly yellowish liquid, the other with the dried green flakes that remained. Even that dried remnant can be further reprocessed to create ethanol, also used for transportation.

Dr. Berzin is the founder of Greenfuels Technologies Corporation which is marketing their process in a joint initiative with NRG Energy, Inc. - see excerpts from their press release below.


NRG Energy, Inc. Announces Partnership to Pursue Innovative Technology for Recycling Carbon Dioxide Emissions into Biofuel

May 16, 2006--NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NRG) has formed a joint initiative with GreenFuel Technologies Corporation (GreenFuel) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to study carbon dioxide (CO2) recycling. The technology takes the flue gas of a power plant and utilizes GreenFuel's innovative, algae-bioreactor technology to effectively recycle CO2 into commercially viable byproducts. NRG's Dunkirk facility, a coal-fueled power plant located in western New York State, will serve as the host site for the study.

NRG's participation in this study is part of "ecoNRG," the Company's ongoing and extensive environmental business effort. In field tests to be conducted at Dunkirk, GreenFuel will utilize a mini-bioreactor system to assess the technical and economic feasibility of its Emissions-to-Biofuel(TM) process that harnesses the photosynthetic processes of algae to consume waste gases and heat from a power plant's air emissions stream, ultimately producing a high energy biomass. This means that in the presence of light, the single-celled algae take up CO2 to produce the energy that fuels plant life--with a general rule of thumb being that two tons of algae remove one ton of CO2. Once the algae are harvested, they can be converted to generate commercially viable byproducts such as ethanol or biodiesel.

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January 20, 2007

FAQ: BIOwaste Blog

1. What is "BIOwaste"?

BIOwaste is our name for the broad spectrum of unrecycled, unconverted, uncaptured carboniferous output from worldwide agricultural, forestry, and urban sources. This includes emissions from combustion and the purges of gasification and similar process residues.

2. What is the focus of the BIOwaste Blog?

The fourth of four biomass conversion blogs, this one is intended to help focus attention to the convertable potential of what we conventionally call "waste." Articles in this blog focus more on urban sources of waste - municipal solid wastes (MSW), solid wastes, biosolids, etc. - while forestry and agricultural sources are more generally covered in the BIOstock Blog. The other three related blogs are the BIOstock Blog, BIOconversion Blog, and the BIOoutput Blog.

It is our contention that potential energy found in waste represents a prime business and societal opportunity because converting waste into products or energy is found income, waste as a feedstock has a "negative" cost value, diverting waste from landfills reduces waste management problems, and a variety of social costs (mainly pollution and global warming) can be mitigated.

3. What is the significance of the Rubik's cube imagery on the Blogs?

The Rubik's cube is emblematic of the multi-faceted energy puzzle that confronts civilization. This four blog series is my attempt to create some semblance of order out of the chaos of global interlinking challenges - geopolitics, employment, pollution, energy, waste, carbon emissions, etc. Each Blog is an attempt to work on a side of the puzzle - BIOstock, BIOconversion, BIOoutput, and BIOwaste. Solve these and I believe many international problems will be substantially mitigated.

CHINA: Pollution threatens 2008 Olympics

A chilling article posted by Knowledge@WhartonNetwork raises concern about pollution in China. It could have an unhealthful impact on the 2008 Summer Olympics. Consider this - at a recent marathon in Hong Kong:

Runners coughed and gagged as they limbered up. Thick smog shrouded the Tsing Ma Bridge. Pollution index readings on this morning in February 2006 were at 149, the highest in months. Any reading over 100 is considered unhealthy.

But the 40,000 runners who had signed up to participate in China's largest footrace, the Hong Kong Standard Chartered Marathon, were ready to go, unaware of the tragedy ahead. By the end of the day, Tsang Kam-yin, a 53-year-old three-time marathoner would collapse and die about a third of the way through the event. About 20 runners would be hospitalized, many for respiratory ailments. In Internet postings following the race, runners complained about asthma attacks and hacking fits after crossing the finish line.

"Everyone who took part in the marathon was at risk of harm to their health from pollution," Anthony J. Hedley, an official with the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, wrote after the race, chiding the organizers for not taking more precautions.

Environmental experts suggest that a cleaner Chinese capital could be the legacy of the 2008 event. But they also note that China needs more than a quick-fix for its broader environmental crisis-in-the-making. They say China's problems stem from a weak legal system, corruption, poverty, two decades of double-digit industrial growth, government policies that put job growth ahead of the environment, and Communist propaganda that over-promoted man's ability to conquer nature.

The effects of pollution can be seen everywhere. Smokestack factories spew toxins and particulates into the air. Rivers teem with sewage. According to Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2006 report, acidification has spread to 30% of China's cropland. Another study, by the Atlanta-based Georgia Institute of Technology, reports that the range of ozone exposure in agricultural regions in the Yangtze River Delta is enough to reduce yields by 10%.

According to a summarizing article on Energy.FinancialNirvana:
Pollution in China is a major issue with 2008 Beijing Olympics right around the corner

What's wrong?
  • According to the World Bank, 16 cities in the world with the worst air pollution are located in China.

  • The country’s Ministry of Science and Technology has estimated that 50,000 newborn babies a year die from the effects of air pollution.

  • China’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the most important global warming gas, are expected to surpass those of the United States in 2009, according to the International Energy Agency.

  • Eric W. Orts, professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton, says that pollution, if left unchecked, will drag down China’s economic growth and result in huge healthcare costs. In addition, China’s pollution will, over time, erode its competitive position in the global economy.

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    BioConversion Stakeholders’ Gallery

    This is a listing of speakers at the Southern California Emerging Waste Technologies Forum held at UCLA on July 27, 2006. Almost all are in favor of RENEW L.A. and advancing R&D and deployment of CTs in California. More biographical details are available by clicking on their links.

    Richard Alarcon - CA State Senator

    Cynthia Babich – Del Amo Action Committee
    Nicole Bernson - City of Los Angeles Councilman Smith, Sr. Policy Advisor, RENEW L.A.
    Fernando Berton - California Integrated Waste Management Board
    Susan Brown - California Energy Commission
    Julie Butcher – General Manager, SEIU Local 347

    Karen Coca - L.A. City Bureau of Sanitation

    Vijay Dhir - UCLA  School of Engineering Dean

    Evan Edgar – California Refuse Removal Council

    Brendan Huffman – Valley Industry and Commerce Association

    Dan Jacobson – Environment California

    James Liao - UCLA Vice Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular

    Ellen Mackey – East Valley Coalition
    Vasilios Manousiouthakis - UCLA Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
    Dr. Kay Martin – BioEnergy Producers’ Association
    Rhonda Mills – Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies
    Cindy Montanez - CA Assembly Member
    Mark Murray – Californians Against Waste

    Randall Neudeck - Board of Directors, Valley Industry and Commerce

    Romel Pascual - L.A. Mayor's Office, Associate Director for Environment
    Cheryl Peace - Board Member, California Integrated Waste Management Board
    Roberto Peccei - UCLA Vice Chancellor for Research

    David Roberti - CA State Senator (Ret.), BioEnergy Producers’ Association
    Rita Robinson – Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation

    Ron Saldana - Los Angeles County Disposal Association
    Greig Smith - City of Los Angeles Councilman
    Coby Skye - Los Angeles County Department of Public Works
    Nancy Sutley - Los Angeles Deputy Mayor for Energy and the Environment

    Eugene Tseng - UCLA Extension, Recycling and MSW Management Certificate Program
    Charles Tupac – Southern California Air Quality Management District

    Lee Wallach – The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California
    William Welch – University of California, Riverside
    Jane Williams – California Communities Against Toxics

    Yair Zadik - Arrow Ecology

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    CALIFORNIA: L.A. Solid Waste Task Force fights for Conversion Technology Reforms in Sacramento

    If the recent passage of California AB32 (the "Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006") proved anything it is that there is considerable interest in revising the way the state addresses air quality, energy supply, and waste pollution problems. One hundred years of relying on fossil fuel combustion as the accepted energy paradigm has resulted in wasted energy and a super-consuming culture in which profligate waste is a status symbol.

    It would surprise most Californians to learn that there is any debate that new technological approaches need to be developed and implemented without delay. Yet there is not only debate, but subterfuge and bad faith negotiating in the California State legislature that is frustrating the sincere, coordinated, and professional efforts of The Los Angeles County Solid Waste Management Committee (SWMC) to move America's third largest city to a cleaner and more energy self-sufficient future.

    In 1990, The SCWMC established the Integrated Waste Management Task Force. The Task Force is comprised of representatives from local government, the solid waste management and recycling industry, and members of the general public, the business sector and the environmental movement.

    The Alternative Technology Advisory Subcommittee of the Task Force is responsible for evaluating and promoting the development of conversion technologies to reduce dependence on landfills and incinerators.

    On August 18, 2005, the Task Force formally adopted the Subcommittee's comprehensive Conversion Technology Evaluation Report. This Report represents a culmination of 18 months of exhaustive and very expensive research conducted in conjunction with URS Corporation. This report is the first step in the effort to deploy a demonstration conversion technology (CT) facility in Southern California, in order to obtain real-world data on the impacts and benefits of these technologies.

    Incredibly, instead of supporting California's largest city in SWMC's efforts to develop conversion technologies (CTs), the State Assembly Natural Resources Committee has ignored the findings of the report including its numerous regulatory change recommendations. No reasons given. Through two rounds of committee review (AB 1090 and AB 2118), this committee has manipulated its meeting agendas and funneled negotiations through unelected organizations with a vested interest in the status quo. It is a blatent attempt to wear down the Task Force of its energy and "starve" a chief lobbyist, the BioEnergy Producers Association headed by Senator David Roberti (ret.), of its war chest.

    This blog has recently received a copy of a letter sent to the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) in Sacramento confirming the frustration which the Solid Waste Management Committee of the Task Force has been experiencing - "Although California is leading the way, the development of conversion technologies in the State has stalled."

    Through a Catch-22 of state regulations no CTs can be deployed in California unless successful air emissions tests are passed within the State. In other words, you have to pass a test in a facility you are not allowed to build - not even simply to run the test. Test results from outside the State do not qualify. Test results of similar technologies do not qualify.

    One year ago three CT facilities - a pyrolysis plant in Romoland, California, a pilot syngas fermentation plant in Arkansas, and a plasma arc gasification plant in Richland, Washington - were tested for air quality emissions by the strictly independent Center for Environmental Research and Technology of the Bourns College of Engineering of the University of California/Riverside (aka, CE-CERT). According to Principal Development Engineer William Welch who conducted the report:

    The pilot plant test results that we have witnessed and have evaluated independently indicate compliance or near compliance with air pollutant emissions regulations.

    In fact, most of the emissions levels were mere fractions on the standards that are sought by the extremely vigilant South Coast Air Quality Management District. The one non-compliant result was for NOx emissions from the Romoland pyrolysis plant. The operators were unaware of the testing standard. Through modification of their syngas scrubbing process, the emissions today are well below the standard and would pass any test with flying colors.

    Which proves a very important point. For there to be any advance in substantially changing the hazardous combustion paradigm, we need to deploy investment-worthy solutions, test them, refine them, and test them again. That is the procedure in most states. If the facility cannot be made to comply, it is shut down and the investors, the risk-takers, lose. At no time is the public at any risk.

    Unless, of course, the status quo is left to persist - which results in keeping the public health in constant danger until other solutions are deployed. As the parent of four, one with chronic asthma, I have to ask - how can the inertia of the State government be good for curing the status quo?

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    Geoplasma Answers Trash Vaporization Questions

    On September 10th I drafted an article about a plan to use plasma-arc technology to gasify waste in St. Lucie County, Florida titled FLORIDA: County to Vaporize Trash. In addition to writing my concerns about the emissions from the process, I listed five questions that I wanted to have clarified by the developer, Geoplasma of Atlanta, Georgia. I sent the list to the president of Geoplasma, Hilburn Hillestad, who very graciously sent me the following reply:

    Response to BioConversion Blog Questions about Trash Vaporization
    From Hilburn Hillestad, President of Geoplasma, LLC.

    Below you will find our answers to your questions. Thank you for your interest in our proposed facility.

    1. Question: How much energy does the plasma-arc use?
    The plasma-arc facility uses approximately 40 megawatts of energy per hour. This is approximately one-quarter of the total output of hourly energy received from MSW.

    2. Question: What will be the source of the plasma-arc energy?
    The facility will receive its energy from its total output. For St. Lucie, it is expected that the 3,000 tons of MSW processed per day will create 160 megawatts of energy per hour. As stated previously, 40 megawatts will be used to power the facility and the remaining 120 megawatts will be sold to an Electric Utility.

    3. Question: What does the energy source emit?
    See question 5.

    4. Question: Is the high heat of the plasma-arc being captured and utilized?
    Because of the nature of a closed-loop system the heat will be captured and utilized both in the plasma gasification process and later in the production of steam.

    5. Question: How are they going to combust the syngas to keep the emissions low?
    There is no combustion during the gasification process. The Plasma-arc gasification process is a chemical reduction process that converts MSW from its original state to a glass-like aggregate solid at the bottom, and a synthetic fuel gas, also known as syngas, at the top.

    Once gasification is over, the syngas is cleaned in a multi-step process, bringing it to levels near natural gas cleanliness. It is then compressed before being used as fuel for a gas turbine.

    The gas turbine for this process is a modified natural gas turbine that mixes the cleaned syngas with air from the atmosphere, combusts the mixture and sends the hot gases through a turbine. The turbine spins an electric generator to produce electricity. The discharged hot gases are then passed through a heat recovery steam generator to produce more steam and to cool the hot gases. The cooler exhaust gases are then discharged into the atmosphere via a stack.

    Emissions from this process are very similar to natural gas combined cycle plants which are considered to be ‘clean’ and are located and permitted all over the U.S., and for that matter the whole world.

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    FLORIDA: County to Vaporize Trash

    Using an approach that sounds a little like "Flash Gordon meets Waste Management", a company in Georgia is using "high heat" (10,000°F.) to vaporize municipal solid waste (MSW). Sounds great as far as it goes but I have four technical questions:
    1. How much energy does it use?
    2. What will be the source of the plasma arc energy?
    3. What does the energy source emit?
    4. Is the high heat of the plasma-arc being captured and utilized?
    5. How are they going to combust the syngas to keep the emissions low?

    If you visit the Geoplasma website, you can hear the company principals explain the application of a D.O.D.-financed technology being applied to solve a societal need - the reduction of landfill waste.

    Expect to be challenged

    In the article below, it sounds like the combustion of syngas is not a closed loop system. While the emissions may indeed be "cleaner than burning coal or natural gas" that is not very reassuring. Emissions tests of other pilot plant processes for harnessing syngas (see Results of Independent Study of Emissions) prove that they emit small fractions of the allowable emissions of dioxins, nitrous oxides, and particulate matter permissable for modern generating facilities. That is the new standard and, by comparison, the Geoplasma plan is brute techology in need of refinement.

    I also question the assertion by Hilburn Hillestad, president of Geoplasma that "This is sustainability in its truest and finest form." As the full system is described, the company would face considerable outrage and resistance by environmentalists over the misuse of the term "sustainability." First, they will complain that material natural resources will be pulverized out of their original state and we will lose their material reusability.

    Secondly, there is nothing inherently natural or close-looped about a system that atomizes trash and combusts the syngas. Something productive has to come from the carbon and even then, it needs to be "sunk" - otherwise the greenhouse gases produced by the process will contribute to global warming.

    Don't get me wrong - this system and many others should be deployed in commercial-scale so that institutions like Georgia Tech can improve system deficiencies. But the second problem they will have to solve from a marketing standpoint is reducing combustion emissions. The first one is their simplistic use of hyperbole.

    County to Vaporize Trash - Poof!
    Wired News

    FORT PIERCE, Florida -- A Florida county has grand plans to ditch its dump, generate electricity and help build roads -- all by vaporizing garbage at temperatures hotter than parts of the sun.

    The $425 million facility expected to be built in St. Lucie County will use lightning-like plasma arcs to turn trash into gas and rock-like material. It will be the first such plant in the nation operating on such a massive scale and the largest in the world.

    Supporters say the process is cleaner than traditional trash incineration, though skeptics question whether the technology can meet the lofty expectations.

    The 100,000-square-foot plant, slated to be operational in two years, is expected to vaporize 3,000 tons of garbage a day. County officials estimate their entire landfill -- 4.3 million tons of trash collected since 1978 -- will be gone in 18 years.

    No byproduct will go unused, according to Geoplasma, the Atlanta-based company building and paying for the plant.

    "This is sustainability in its truest and finest form," said Hilburn Hillestad, president of Geoplasma, a subsidiary of Jacoby Development.

    For years, some waste-management facilities have been converting methane -- created by rotting trash in landfills -- to power. Others also burn trash to produce electricity.

    But experts say population growth will limit space available for future landfills.

    "We've only got the size of the planet," said Richard Tedder, program administrator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's solid waste division. "Because of all of the pressures of development, people don't want landfills. It's going to be harder and harder to site new landfills, and it's going to be harder for existing landfills to continue to expand."

    The plasma-arc gasification facility in St. Lucie County, on central Florida's Atlantic Coast, aims to solve that problem by eliminating the need for a landfill. Only two similar facilities are operating in the world -- both in Japan -- but are gasifying garbage on a much smaller scale.

    Up to eight plasma arc-equipped cupolas will vaporize trash year-round, nonstop. Garbage will be brought in on conveyor belts and dumped into the cylindrical cupolas where it falls into a zone of heat more than 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

    "We didn't want to do it like everybody else," said Leo Cordeiro, the county's solid waste director. "We knew there were better ways."

    No emissions are released during the closed-loop gasification, Geoplasma says. The only emissions will come from the synthetic gas-powered turbines that create electricity. Even that will be cleaner than burning coal or natural gas, experts say.

    Few other toxins will be generated, if any at all, Geoplasma says.

    Louis Circeo, director of Georgia Tech's plasma research division, said that as energy prices soar and landfill fees increase, plasma-arc technology will become more affordable.

    "Municipal solid waste is perhaps the largest renewable energy resource that is available to us," Circeo said, adding that the process "could not only solve the garbage and landfill problems in the United States and elsewhere, but it could significantly alleviate the current energy crisis."

    He said that if large plasma facilities were put to use nationwide to vaporize trash, they could theoretically generate electricity equivalent to about 25 nuclear power plants.

    Americans generated 236 million tons of garbage in 2003, about 4.5 pounds per person, per day, according to the latest figures from the Environmental Protection Agency. Roughly 130 million tons went to landfills -- enough to cover a football field 703 miles high with garbage.

    "It addresses two of the world's largest problems -- how to deal with solid waste and the energy needs of our communities," Craft said. "This is the end of the rainbow. It will change the world."

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    CANADA: Municipal Solid Waste Disposal Options

    A search for a current comparison of waste disposal options uncovered this report by the Recycling Council of Alberta Canada. It describes in considerable detail the various waste treatment options available for typical municipalities of 20,000, 80,000, and 200,000 inhabitants.


    MSW Options: Integrating Organics Management and Residual Treatment/Disposal
    Recycling Council of Alberta, April 2006

    Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Options: Integrating Organics Management and Residual Treatment/Disposal will assist municipalities in moving their integrated waste management systems to the “next level” in order to further conserve resources, reduce environmental impacts, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, produce energy, lessen dependence on landfills and improve social acceptability.

    The report provides evaluations of the following Organics Management and Residual Treatment/Disposal options:
    • composting;
    • anaerobic digestion;
    • sanitary landfill.
    • bioreactor landfill; and
    • thermal treatment including incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, and plasma arc.

    The indicators used in the evaluations included: environmental, social, economic, energy and greenhouse gases.

    Here is a simple animation showing how Consutech incinerators use heat in a double chamber configuration to reduce the mass of the input feedstock.

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    Plasma Gasification and Incineration Compared

    One of the common objections to the use of gasification to effect waste-to-energy conversions is the irrational claim that "gasification is just another name for incineration." This is an old, false distortion of fact relating to controversy surrounding the use of waste-to-energy incinerators and the "Keep America Beautiful" program of the 1980's. As related by Ratical.Org:

    In 1980 DOE projected that by 1987 there would be 160,000 tons-per-day of incineration capacity in the U.S. and double this by 1992. But in reality in 1988 incineration capacity was only 50,000 tons per day, and it was expanding at a snail's pace. In 1985 there were 42 new incinerators ordered, but by 1987 it was down to 25 and by 1989 new orders has dropped to 10. In 1987, for the first time in recent memory, more capacity was canceled (35,656 tons per day) than was ordered (20,585 tons per day). The incineration industry had hit a wall.

    That wall was made up of local grass-roots citizens concerned about many aspects of solid waste incineration: dollar cost, hazardous air pollution, toxic ash, destruction of material resources, waste of energy, the political corruption that accompanies multi-billion-dollar public works projects, and the gobbling up of small, local waste haulers by the incineration giants.

    Gasification is NOT incineration as the side-by-side comparison of plasma gasification and incineration below demonstrates (as published on the website of the Plasco Energy Group). While this company is focused on the production of syngas, other companies (BRI Energy, Fuel Frontiers, and others) are focused on the fermentation of cooled syngas into biofuels (like ethanol).


    In plasma gasification the waste input is pyrolysed by the high temperature into its constituent elements: H2, O2, C, N2 etc. The converter conditions are controlled so that prior to exit, the elements reform into the desired syngas that is rich in CO and H2. The materials that can not be converted into syngas, such as metal, glass, rock and concrete are vitrified to produce an inert slag. The slag is 1/250th of the volume of the processed solid waste.

    In incineration, excess O2 is added to the input waste so that at low temperature it burns. The result is heat and an exhaust of CO2, H2O and other products of combustion or partial combustion. As much as 30% of the processed solid waste remains as ash. This ash is a solid waste and could be categorized as hazardous solid waste.

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    Recycling’s “China Syndrome”

    At last month's Southern California Emerging Waste Technologies Forum State Senator David Roberti (ret.) made a statement about the duplicity of state policy on "diversion credits" for specific forms of recycling. I had heard Roberti make a similar statement at a hearing last November but hadn't researched it. Here is what I have learned since...

    What are "diversion credits"?

    In 1989, Assembly Bill 939, known as the Integrated Waste Management Act was passed because of the increase in California's waste stream and the decrease of its landfill capacity. As a result, the current California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) was established. A disposal reporting system with CIWMB oversight was created and facility and program planning was implemented.

    AB 939 mandates a reduction of waste being disposed: jurisdictions were required to meet diversion goals of 25% by 1995 and 50% by the year 2000. Those that didn't meet these deadlines were liable to receive noncompliance fines. Whether a form of diversion receives credit toward the target or not is based on an ongoing refinement of legal definitions in the state's legislature.

    Currently, California municipalities qualify for diversion credits on trash that recyclers ship to the China. China can process waste far less expensively than we can in the U.S. because of cheap labor and their incredibly toxic emissions and health standards. As long as the waste is segregated as recyclable it makes no difference how it is processed afterwards as far as our diversion counting is concerned. Talk about sweeping a problem under the rug!

    Even waste China is not asking for, e.g. the e-waste piling up in China’s coastal river valleys, is considered diverted according to our counting methodology. Whether the Chinese dump it or we dump it - it shouldn't receive diversion credit.

    Believe it or not, if local municipalities instead opt to build clean CTs - conversion technology facilities using gasification or pyrolysis to significantly reduce the volume of waste to be landfilled while generating green energy and clean fuels - they would NOT receive diversion credit! This in spite of the fact that it would represent an ultimate and environmentally responsible processing of the waste near the source.

    Why should facilities that convert waste into heat, electricity, and renewable fuels not earn credits for the municipalities that build them? The answer is that recycling groups are afraid of losing control of any portion of the waste stream - that such credits would create irresistable incentives to municipalities at risk of being fined for non-compliance. Once municipalities gain control of their waste streams, recyclers may get less, or as Scott Smithline of Californians Against Waste (CAW) worded it, "“We are concerned that demand, that hunger for feedstock, is going to pull materials from other traditional recycling uses.”

    So the environmental interests are taking second seat to bickering over control of the waste stream. But the duplicity is far worse than that. Consider the trail of the waste that goes to China -

    1 - The ships that transport the trash thousands of miles to China spew tons of greenhouse gases from burning bulk fuel (the least refined and most toxic oil-based fuel sold). These emissions into the atmosphere return to California and points in-between.

    2 - The destinations in China are unregulated, polluting factories that, among other repugnant policies, employ children as sorters within close proximity to toxic ovens that smelt and reform the plastic. Are we so unprincipled that we would ship recyclables to foreign destinations knowing that their low health standards would endanger the workers that handle our trash? Should we credit those shipments for landfill diversion?

    3 - Airbourne particulate matter from all unregulated Chinese combustion factories reaches back to the U.S. In a recent article in the San Diego Union Tribune entitled China's growing air pollution reaches American skies, UC/David researchers have evidence that as China consumes more fossil fuels to feed its energy-hungry economy, the U.S. is seeing a sharp increase in trans-Pacific pollution that could affect human health, worsen air quality and alter climate patterns.

    4 - Plastic and trash debris from throughout Asia accumulates and returns to North America via Pacific ocean currents. In a story titled Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas writers for the Los Angeles Times detailed evidence of waste that was accumulating in giant offshore gyres:
    The debris can spin for decades in one of a dozen or more gigantic gyres around the globe, only to be spat out and carried by currents to distant lands. The U.N. Environment Program estimates that 46,000 pieces of plastic litter are floating on every square mile of the oceans. About 70% will eventually sink.

    The purpose of this article is not to point fingers at the recycling industry. Rather, to insist that the California Integrated Waste Management Board's attempts to modernize California's recycling policies, including diversion credits, receive the full backing and support of the California legislature – which it clearly has not. California not only needs to reduce the source of its waste and expand programs for dealing with more types of waste, but also must update the definition of transformation and conversion technologies so that we can process more waste, more completely while creating "green collar jobs" for our own workers. These are the objectives of AB 2118, currently hung up in negotiation before the California Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

    Exporting our waste to poorer countries is unprincipled and uncivilized. Furthermore, CTs represent a new opportunity to significantly expand our recycling efforts, reduce landfill demand, suppress pollution of our atmosphere and oceans, reduce greenhouse gases, and create new energy resources to help meet the electricity and fuel needs of future generations both here and abroad.

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