Solid Waste & Recycling

Feature

Energy Conversion

In a time when communities are being required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and relieve burdened landfills, conversion technologies have the potential to shape a sustainable future for waste management. Attitudes are shifting to view...


In a time when communities are being required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and relieve burdened landfills, conversion technologies have the potential to shape a sustainable future for waste management. Attitudes are shifting to view garbage as a resource, inspiring many companies to design systems that can process waste efficiently while reducing negative impacts on the environment.

Plasco Energy Group Inc. (Plasco) is a waste conversion and energy generation company based in Ottawa, Canada. Plasco’s patented technology advances traditional plasma gasification in the treatment of municipal solid waste. The company finances, builds, and operates facilities that convert municipal solid waste into green power and other valuable products.

The company’s conversion system is the result of over thirty years of research and development by Resorption Canada Limited and RCL Plasma Inc., the predecessor companies from which Plasco was formed in April, 2005. Plasco (RCL) was founded in 1974 for the purpose of applying plasma technology for materials testing. In the early 1980s the focus was changed to apply plasma gasification to remediate all types of waste. Decades of testing and design have been invested to develop breakthrough performance both economically and environmentally.

The technology

Plasco’s non-incineration process is fundamentally different than any competing thermal technology. Rather than using plasma torches directly on garbage, Plasco uses plasma only to refine the gases released from the gasification of the waste in an oxygen-starved conversion chamber. With the torches interacting only with the gas, there is limited electricity demand. In the process, garbage is converted into a synthetic gas (syngas) that’s then used to run internal combustion engines. The Plasco process results in net energy production while converting 98 per cent of waste to clean, valuable products.

Because the garbage is gasified and not burned, the multiple and capital-intensive pollution abatement systems required by incinerators can be replaced with single string units that yield class-leading environmental performance. The result is ultra-low emission engine exhaust that will meet or beat the world’s toughest environmental standards.

Any remaining solids are melted with plasma torches into a liquid slag. Once cooled, it returns to a solid, inert material and becomes a clean aggregate suitable to make concrete or be mixed with asphalt. Leachability tests have been conducted on the slag and have confirmed that it does not leach and is non-toxic. Along with construction aggregate, agricultural sulphur, commercial salt and recycled metals, Plasco’s process also recovers and treats water for release into the environment.

The entire process is continuously monitored by a proprietary control system that ensures syngas stability to fuel internal combustion engines regardless of variations in energy content of the waste.

Benefits and facility

With Plasco, over 98 per cent of residual waste is diverted from landfill, eliminating methane emissions, leachate escape and soil contamination. Power from a Plasco facility also displaces other power sources that have higher greenhouse gas intensity such as coal.

By distributing facilities across a city, Plasco is able to minimize truck traffic and road congestion. Distributed facilities also mean that the power produced can be transmitted and consumed over the local network. This eliminates transmission line losses and reduces the likelihood of widespread power outages.

Plasco entered into a partnership with the City of Ottawa in April, 2006 for the construction of a commercial-scale demonstration facility across from the City’s Trail Road Landfill. Plasco’s Trail Road Facility is the only operating commercial-scale plant in the world that successfully converts waste into syngas that can run reciprocating gas engines to generate electricity.

After its rigorous evaluation and screening of the technology, Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), a federal not-for-profit foundation that supports clean technologies, committed $9.5 million for the Trail Road Facility. SDTC’s commitment in 2005 was the catalyst for more than $120 million of equity capital from private investors. In October 2009, Plasco reached a major milestone as SDTC celebrated the completion of The Plasco Project, demonstrating the commercial viability of the technology.

Plasco is in the final stages of negotiations with the City of Ottawa for a commercial plant that will divert as much as two-thirds of the city’s non-recyclable, residential garbage from landfill. The company has also signed a contract for a commercial facility in Red Deer, Alberta.

As society continues to generate increasing amounts of waste, new technologies are needed to replace outdated and inefficient methods. Plasco’s technology is a sustainable solution that will help communities tap into the value of waste and turn garbage into an asset.

Rod Bryden is President and Chief Executive Officer of Plasco Energy Group in Kanata, Ontario. Contact Rod at rbryden@plascoenergygroup.com


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