Progressive county in Florida plans to gasify trash
Plans are in the works to build a $425 million
plasma gasification facility to destroy municipal solid waste in
St. Lucie County, Florida. The facility is designed to dispose of
waste and provide energy to the power grid at no cost to taxpayers.
Geoplasma LLC, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Jacoby
Development Inc., is developing the facility, which is designed
to process 3,000 tons of garbage a day. The facility will generate
120 megawatts of power for the power grid and 40 megawatts to operate
the facility. "It will be the largest municipal solid waste
processing facility using plasma gasification in the world,"
said Hilburn Hillestad president of Geoplasma.
The plasma arc technology, which was originally
developed by NASA in the 1960s to test the integrity of heat shield
material to protect spacecrafts upon re-entry into the earth's atmosphere,
can be applied to all types of different wastes, including industrial
wastes, organic wastes, and biohazardous wastes, according to Geoplasma.
Plasma arc technology can recover enough energy
from 1,000 tons of waste to power approximately 12,000 homes for
a day. The technology uses electricity and high-pressure air to
create plasma with temperatures exceeding 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is a gasification and pyrolysis process, not combustion or
burning of solid waste, according to Geoplasma. The inorganic materials
and compounds melt and solidify into obsidian-like materials suitable
for reuse as gravel and other construction materials.
There is already a track record in place with
regard to plasma arch technology, Hillestad said. A General Motors
(GM) plant in Defiance, Ohio has been using the same torch system
by Westinghouse since 1989 that the St. Lucie County facility will
use. GM has been using it in a foundry to recreate very high temperatures
to recycle scrap metal.
A smaller torch system has also been in use for
several years to actually destroy municipal solid waste in Japan.
The plant was built by Hitachi Metals Ltd. and also utilizes the
Westinghouse torch design. "The torches are well tested,"
Hillestad said he expects the St. Lucie facility
to be operational by the third quarter of 2009. Geoplasma is financing
the project through tax-exempt bonds. UBS Investment Bank will help
with the bond sales. St. Lucie County, 90 miles north of Miami Beach,
will not assume any of the financial responsibilities, Hillestad
Ron Roberts, assistant director of the Solid Waste
Department in St. Lucie County said the county started looking at
alternatives for solid waste management around two years ago. The
county researched 55 to 65 different companies. Staff members also
traveled to Georgia Tech Research Institute to see how the gasification
"They put it (trash) in and they gasified
it right in front of our eyes. What was left was a little piece
of slag molten stuff that is inert," Roberts said. A team from
the county also traveled to Japan to look at a smaller plasma gasification
facility in operation.
St. Lucie County then decided to ask for a request
for qualifications for any company that could design, permit, finance,
construct, and own and operate a plasma arc gasification facility
for 3,000 tons of municipal solid waste per day. When Geoplasma
was the only respondent the county board authorized the start of
Once operational, the facility will process 2,000
tons of incoming garbage a day as well as 1,000 tons a day that
would be mined out of the county's existing landfill. Roberts said
that he expects the existing landfill to be eliminated in 15 to
"It is very exciting that we've come this
far in solid waste management that we can do it this way instead
of the medieval practice of burying garbage," Roberts said.
Since the announcement of the new facility in
St. Lucie County, Hillestad said waste managers from around 35 states
and from about 15 countries have contacted Geoplasma. "We have
been astounded by the outpouring of interest," Hillestad said.
He said he expects similar projects to be announced in the near
future. "We have other negotiations underway right now with
other municipalities," Hillestad said.
Higher energy prices along with government interest
in renewable energy have helped to boost interest, Hillestd said.
"We have a model that is just very timely."
The synthetic gas produced from the solid waste
is competitive with natural gas, Hillestad said. "We can produce
a large volume of electricity at a good rate for sale to the local
utility grid. The synthetic gas is directly competitive, price wise,
with natural gas."
The need to dispose of solid waste by alternative
means has been around for years, Hillestad said. "But the economic
component is really being driven by the fact that we generate a
lot of power. That's green power from a renewable source."