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The Garbage Rush Is On? – There is Gold in Them There Dumps?

March 12, 2011

Garbage finally achieves recognition on a global scale. More so, garbage, the formidable stuff few care to talk about at a cocktail party, unites for the common good the renewable energy and the sustainability camps.

For the most part, renewable energy advocates focus their attention on power generation via solar, wind, hydro- and geothermal, and biofuels and are less concerned with improving energy efficiency within the current infrastructure. The latter was the primary mission of the sustainable energy movement. Now here comes garbage a copious nuisance and potentially harmful wasteful by-product of everyday living, with its ability to be incinerated, generate steam, turn a turbine and generate electricity and when recycled for this purpose has true economic value and societal benefits.

Let’s face it, garbage is far from sexy. When compared to the California Gold Rush of 1849, garbage lacks the glitter, excitement and bags-to-riches mentality. Not many would wade in a pile of waste for days on end to become an instant millionaire.  Interesting enough, Waste Management, Inc. has been doing just that for many years. Don’t know of any renewable energy or sustainable energy companies that can boast payrolls of 45,000 employees and annual revenues of about $12 billion.

So what is it about garbage that makes it the golden egg of the 21st century? Frankly, it is in the form of Municipal Solid Waste (“MSW”).  Years ago, MSW was used as landfill or just burnt to the dismay of the adjacent communities. A good portion of North Jersey would not exist had it not been designated as New York City’s garbage dump. The Giant Stadium in the Meadowlands is a testament to trash’s utility in reclaiming swampland.  Since decomposing garbage generates methane, a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, has a cost to transport and maintain, can leak toxic substances into the soil and water, and has a fragrance appealing to none, another use had to be found.
It is well know that most combustible materials can act as an energy source. Not sure if the automakers had the insight and technical wherewithal to enable vehicles to be filled up with 15 pounds of trash rather than 15 gallons of fossil fuel. In all fairness, our government recognized bioenergy can be produced from agricultural and forestry residues, municipal solid wastes, industrial wastes, and terrestrial and aquatic crops grown solely for energy purposes. In general, biomass is considered to be a renewable source of energy, but fundamentally it is an efficient and smart way of dealing with plant and animal organic waste products.

A recent article, “Waste-to-Energy Conversion (WTE) Market: It’s Large and Growing,” by Stu Haber, President  & CEO of IST Energy Corporation, that appeared in The Daily Energy Report discusses the ever growing trend of using unusable MSW  for the benefit of both the supplier and the processor ( ).

The article points out:

“….. the U.S. alone produced 250 million tons (2008) of MSW or 4.5 pounds per person per day, consisting of packaging and containers (31%); food, yard wastes and organics (26%);  non-durable goods (24%); and durable goods (19%).”

“….. two waste-to-energy market sizes: 1) Large Municipality Processing, for electricity and heat generation and 2) On-Site Conversion.”

“….. the global market for WTE Large Municipality Processing was $20 billion in 2008 and expected to increase to $26 billion in 2014.”

“More than 900 thermal WTE Large Municipality Processing plants operate worldwide and treat an estimated 200 million tons of MSW.”

“The On-Site Conversion system market is new but perhaps even larger. In the U.S. alone, there are 47,000 hospitality locations, 21,000 food processing plants, 17,000 industrial plants, 10,000 towns, 9,000 higher educational institutions, 5,700 hospitals, 2,500 prisons, 1,800 arenas and stadiums, and 3,000 military installations, in all representing 117,000 potential customers for compact, on-site, WTE conversion systems. The U.S. market alone could easily exceed $120 billion.”

Well there you have it, a strikingly pragmatic way of having garbage serve us. Until we find a way to substantially reduce or practically eliminate waste, trash can now perform a patriotic act as a self-sustaining and renewable source of energy. It doesn’t sound so bad anymore to convert the pans, cradles and sieves of the 49ers to modern day pyrolytic equipment.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2011 6:47 PM

    I had a demo of IST Energy’s GEM system just this week, along with members of our local municipal energy efficiency group. It was pretty impressive – the waste processing unit is about the size of a large shipping container or dumpster, and creates pellets by shredding, sifting and drying basic household or commercial trash. The unit we saw was generating 82kW at the time – and basically powering the entire office building. With towns and cities struggling to cut costs (while paying for trash disposal and power supplies) this seems a pretty appealing way to go.

  2. March 12, 2011 7:37 PM

    Somehow, the impoverished third world is doing more than a little about this – over the past few months I have been sent details of biogas plants wholly designed in India, Thailand and South Africa to process food waste from homes and into biogas and run modified Listeroid engines. As these are parts of the world where poverty can be extreme, these homegrown solutions might not only make the countries somewhat cleaner but also help people using these low cost (albeit crude) systems save money that might be spent on buying LPG for domestic use.

    That said, I personally think that the big money lies in processing sewage – a team at Texas A and M University has commercialized a catalytic sewage to synthetic “crude” system which is already being demonstrated by a startup and validated by Valero. As someone who migrated from India, I know the enormous problems that Indian cities have with sewage – with more than a billion people in the country and 40% of these living in cities now, there is a heck of a lot of sewage available to convert into gasoline using this process, or in extracting methane from as a fuel.

    Hopefully, some American entrepreneurs would overcome their reluctance and try and do business in that part of the world. Yes, as you very rightly point out, there’s money to be made from garbage. Billions, in fact.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    September 21, 2011 12:36 PM

    Excellent article. You want to know the real company who has all the answers? The name Standard Alcohol of America or ( SACA ). Please email me

    Thank you.


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