The latest Turbine Talk is available on the Capstone website. It is all about the exciting new market sector of HEVs. These boats, cars, trucks use a Capstone C30 or C65 to extend the range of the battery packs on board. The microturbine runs on regular diesel or LNG and is CARB certified making it one of the cleanest vehicles on the road (or in the water). A must read for anyone interested in clean technology.
Very interesting article on the controversial process of using high temperatures to turn trash into synthetic gas that can run power generation equipment. I’m skeptical myself especially since the the spokesman for AFE says “the plant would be the first form of renewable energy not dependent on unpredictable energy sources such as the wind or sun.” Capstone alone has over 20 projects already commissioned involving the use of methane from landfills and waste water plants that are classified as renewable, 3 of which are in Wisconsin. Found on MilwaukeeNewsBuzz.com.
The plant would be the first of its kind in the nation, a high-tech facility proposed for Milwaukee that would generate electricity by heating garbage to extreme temperatures. But environmentalists object, saying the “plasma gasification” process, classified by Wisconsin as a renewable energy source earlier this year, actually releases greenhouse gases and falls short of a true green power source.
The developers of the proposed $225 million project, which could be located on the city’s far north side near the intersection of Highway 100 and North Granville Road, are a Milwaukee-based company called Alliance Federated Energy (AFE), a new team of energy infrastructure developers with international experience. Earlier this week, the company announced it had signed an $11.4 million deal with Alter NRG Corp. to use its plasma gasification technology in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. So far, the only project AFE has announced is the plant in Milwaukee, dubbed “Project Apollo.”
One day, it could convert 1,200 tons of municipal waste into synthetic gas and an inert glass-like solid byproduct that could be used in road construction. The gas, after going through scrubbers and other pollutions controls, would be burned to generate 25 megawatts of electricity, the developers say.
Environmental groups say the project could inhibit recycling and waste reduction programs and increase air pollution. “This is a technology that’s never been successfully deployed in the U.S.,” charges Shahla Werner, director of the Wisconsin chapter of the Sierra Club. “The pollution that could be emitted is very troubling, depending on the feed source.”
Faced with a proposal for a similar plant, the city of Palisade, Minn., commissioned a study on the plasma gasification industry. It concluded that emissions from the plants are “substantially lower than those resulting from incineration.” Environmental groups, by contrast, have lambasted plasma gasification as a glorified form of incineration and a diversion from truly green energy projects. The Palisade project is still pending.
There is a small demo plant processing municipal waste in Ottawa, Canada that, according to researchers, has processed particulate matter, greenhouse gases and toxins at levels that meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, even before processing in pollution controls. But environmentalists argue it’s a step backward masquerading as clean energy.
The plants work by heating trash or other waste to an extreme temperature, usually about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, to break down molecular structures. The resulting gas can be burned to generate electricity as in the plant in Milwaukee, or it can be bottled and sold for other uses.
The vast majority of the world’s plasma gasification plants (which exist primarily in Asia) have capacities smaller than 50 tons and were constructed for a specific kind of waste, such as ammunition, medical waste, chemical agents used in warfare or PCBs.
So far, attempts to build large scale plants in the United States have run aground. A $150 million plant built in Richland, Wash., closed in 2001 before reaching full capacity due to technical and financial problems. In 2009, Sacramento, Calif., rejected a plant after an energy consultant concluded the developer’s business plan wasn’t feasible. The vice-mayor concluded plasma gasification “is not a certifiably clean technology.” Industry supporters say the projects are tough to get off the ground because the technology is new and elicits skepticism.
Josh Morby, AFE spokesman, says the Alter NRG technology has proven commercially viable in two plants in Japan and another in India. According to the Palisade study, one of the Japanese plants, the largest in the world, has a capacity of about 300 tons per day and the other can only handle about 28 tons of waste. The Indian facility, not covered in the report, is a commercial plant for disposing of hazardous waste.
No large-scale power plants
Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction, a San Francisco environmental group that lobbies against plasma gasification plants, says the technology is still unproven as a means for large-scale power generation as is being proposed in Milwaukee. “There is not a plasma facility in the entire planet generating 25 megawatts or anything close to it,” he says. “A lot of companies pitch this as renewable energy, which is a fallacy. It’s a marketing scheme. Plasma is not only an incredibly complicated technology, but it’s very energy intensive.”
Morby says the plant would be the first form of renewable energy not dependent on unpredictable energy sources such as the wind or sun. The facility would sort out recyclables, he says, to avoid breaking them down in the plasma chamber. Morby claims the plant would generally emit fewer greenhouse gases than landfills, which release and burn methane. The technology, he says, has “often been referred to as the holy grail of energy. It takes materials from the worst end of the (waste) cycle and turns them into energy.”
“Burying garbage,” Morby adds, “continues to become more expensive. (Plasma gasification) creates an alternative to landfilling. Recycling is not an alternative to landfilling.”
In the legislative session that ended earlier this year, Gov. Jim Doyle signed a law classifying plasma gasification plants as renewable energy, meaning they count toward the state’s goal of using 10 percent renewable energy by 2025. Environmental groups objected. “It was a direct nod to projects like this one,” Werner says.
To date, AFE has not applied to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for an air permit. According to DNR air management engineer Steven Dunn, the plant would likely require one similar to those held by other polluters, including factories and some power plants.
Jeff Fleming, spokesman from the Milwaukee Department of City Development, says the city has been in contact with the company. The project will most likely require some zoning approval, he says, but none is pending. Fleming says he’s not aware of the company making any request for city funding or financing. Morby says the company hasn’t ruled out any federal, state or local funding for the project, which is planning on private investment.
AFE is also negotiating with area municipalities to process their waste, he says. The company might also reach agreements to dispose of industrial waste as well. The only contract made public so far is one with Badger Disposal that would supply about a quarter of the plant’s needs.
AFE could announce similar projects later this year in the Midwest. According to a press release, the developer “is advancing several other projects in the region as well as one internationally.”