Calgary firm acquires advanced plasma gasification process for waste-to-energy conversion
A Canadian company has acquired the only plasma gasification technology commercially proven to vaporize household wastes ranging from old boots to beds and baby diapers, transforming the waste into energy such as electricity. Calgary-based Alter Nrg has purchased Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC), of Pittsburgh, for $29 million (U.S.).
The plasma gasification process uses extremely high heat to break down the molecular structure of any carbon-containing materials, such as household waste, tires or industrial sludge, and convert them into synthesis gas that can be used to generate power. Gasification occurs in an oxygen-starved environment so the waste is vaporized, not incinerated or burned.
Unlike conventional thermal treatment technologies, plasma gasification generates only non-hazardous residual byproducts, has fewer emissions and generates more energy per tonne of waste. Plasma gasification facilities also have a smaller environmental footprint than conventional waste disposal options including landfills, incineration and non-plasma gasification.
In March 2007, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named plasma gasification technology as a viable solution to convert waste to energy without emitting harmful chemicals such as dioxin, furan and mercury.
WPC's plasma gasification technology has been applied commercially for more than 15 years. It was first developed for NASA in the Apollo space program to simulate space vehicle re-entry conditions, where temperatures can exceed 5,500*C. More than $100 million (U.S.) has been invested in the WPC process, which is currently being used by large companies such as Alcan, General Motors and Hitachi Metals.
In Atlanta, Georgia, Geoplasma LLC recently chose the WPC technology for its planned waste-to-energy facility in St Lucie County, Florida. Approved by the county in April, the facility is expected to be operational by the second quarter of 2010. It will convert 1,000 tonnes of garbage per day initially, eventually vaporizing 3,000 tonnes per day. Upon opening, energy generated from the facility will provide enough electricity to power more than 25,000 homes. Geoplasma's Florida facility will become the world's largest waste-to-energy plasma gasification facility.
In India, the WPC technology will be incorporated into two 68 tonne-per-day hazardous waste disposal plants being built by SMS Infrastructures. These plants, located in Pune and Nagpur, will each produce up to five megawatts of electricity and are expected to open this fall.
In addition, two Japanese facilities have been using the plasma gasification process since 2002, transforming municipal solid waste, scrap auto waste and sewage sludge into electricity.
The new plants in Florida and India are expected to open the door to other plasma gasification facilities throughout the world.
Alter Nrg CEO Mark Montemurro said his company is well positioned to leverage the opportunities provided by gasification because its technology is scaleable, meaning it can be used in both small and large facilities in a range of population zones. "Plasma gasification provides a solution to two major challenges - how to dispose of solid waste and at the same time meet the growing need for clean sources of alternative energy," he said.
Alter Nrg is a development-stage alternative energy company. Its mission over the next decade is to become a major producer of clean energy such as hydrogen and syngas, and of transportation fuels such as biodegradable sulfur-free diesel, ethanol, steam and electricity. More information is available on the company's Web site, www.alternrg.ca.