If you are like me, a mid-twenties person, looking toward the future and seeing what we can achieve for energy creation that doesn't depend on fossil fuels. If you are like me you also know that that isn't such a simple thing. Currently, Elon Musk is getting all hyped up about his solar energy capturing, storing, and increased efficiency projects with SolarCity. Elon Musk, this generations Gandalf, telling big oil "YOU. SHALL. NOT. PASS!" *opens the Tesla app on his new IPhoneX and starts his car and revs the engine* (yes, Tesla's have an app, I've seen it and I nearly cried of jealousy). We also are seeing the rise of Tidal Energy, like that in the Bay of Fundy, where there has been lots of controversy about the lack of regulation and aquatic habitat disruption (but thats a whole other matter). Basically engineers have created a way to capture energy from changing tides, predominantly those that change frequently and with force, to turn an underwater turbine that then moves a shaft and creates energy through interesting feats math and physics. There are also those looking at capture energy from wind using massive turbines, nothing new we all know about those. But all of these energy sources have one thing in common, how do we store the energy once it is created? To that, I do not know. Electric Gandalf says make really really effiecient batteries and store it for when production isnt optimal. Others say kind of the same thing. I dont really know. What I do know is that there are those out there looking to create "bridge fuels" until the really smart people can give us an ultimate sustainable energy source. One of the many bridge fuels that has caught my eye is that of the plasma-gasification of garbage.
Hold on. Yes, plasma-gasification is a real thing. No, I didn't just make this term up. But lets back up a little here.
Here in North America, and many other parts of the world, we have a real problem of over consumption and in turn an even bigger garbage problem. We most likely throw away all the packaging of what we buy and most likely what ever we purchased (within a few uses); from there the garbage goes into a waste bin and the garbage truck takes it away. For most of us, thats all we know or really want to care to know. For me, I know that was the case up until a few years ago. After our garbage goes on a joy-ride in the back of a big truck it gets, more often then not, dumped into a lined pit, pressed, sealed, and then the process is continued until the pit is full and made into a park (or what ever else).
I love parks, I love sitting under a tree and taking a nap and hoping no one takes my wallet (just kidding, Halifax is pretty safe). Well under our backs, as we lay there napping or looking at the sky, the liner in the garbage pit has most likely ruptured and is slowly leaking toxic waste into our water tables and messing things up. With the handy use of a plasma torch, our problems are solved (sort of).
So, here it comes. Our bridge fuel to end all bridge fuels: garbage.
The plasma-gasification of garbage basically entails a few mane components: a receptacle for fuel (garbage), a fuel-to-gas-converter, a gas-refiner, a cooling system that creates steam and intern a steam turbine, and finally a "syngas" engine. The steam turbine and the syngas engine both create usable energy that consumers can use in their homes, power their electric cars, and play with (it would be cool if we could actually play with electricity, might just be me). So to sum this up, we would dig up our old land-fills, use the garbage for fuel to create energy, and then all is happy in the world. Not so.
We are still burning something that creates emissions of some sort, we still aren't at sustainable energy creation yet. So what are the numbers?
As we can see in this study done by lovely researchers at Columbia University, overall garbage is stacking up rather nicely with the exception of Nitrogen Oxides. But to counter this point, the amount of Nitrogen Oxides being produces in the extraction, shipping, refining, hauling, and burning of any other gaseous energy source is much more. Yes, there is still transportation being done to move the garbage but I would argue it is much less than that of fossil fuels.
To put this in perspective during the 2015 year in the United States alone 27% of total Green House Gas emissions were from the transportation sector, electricity 29%, and industry 21% of the 6,587 million metric tons of just CO2. If we used garbage as a fuel source to create energy then we would be saving literally millions of tons of emissions from entering the atmosphere every year. Having the source of this fuel located much closer the energy creation site would also cut emissions dramatically, no longer would we have to burn fuel to be able to burn fuel to create energy.
I am not advocating that we stop fighting for more sustainable energy creation solutions but I am saying that this might be a band-aid solution that could tie us over until we can finally move to a future of closed system energy creation. With such companies as Fourth State and Pyrogenesis making great success in the plasma-gasification world, we can see that there are companies out there with the future in mind.
Thank you for reading!
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