April 16, 2014

Waste Management

Dirty Work

Jennifer LeClaire | 12/1/2006

Geoplasma's plasma-arc technology vaporizes landfill waste.

St. Lucie could become the nation's first county to use technology that vaporizes landfill waste. County officials gave the nod to Atlanta-based Geoplasma to fund and build a $425- million facility that uses plasma arcs to turn waste into electricity and materials that could be used to build roads.

St. Lucie County officials predict the plant -- expected to be operational in two years -- will vaporize 3,000 tons of garbage a day and empty its 4.5-million- ton landfill within 18 years. "Over the course of 20 years, we would save $150 million because we wouldn't have to build new landfill cells. Our landfill sits on 300 acres of prime property," says Ron Roberts, the county's assistant solid-waste director.

Only two other facilities in the world use plasmaarc technology to vaporize waste. Both are in Japan. There, the facilities handle hundreds of tons a day. The process uses electricity and high-pressure air to create plasma at temperatures hotter than the sun. When solid waste is added, the molecules break apart at their elemental state and create a synthetic gas, which powers a turbine that creates electricity.

Geoplasma, which has not built one of these facilities yet, and its finance team members, New Prospect Capital and UBS, will fund 100% of the project.

Some, however, are skeptical. Bruce Parker, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Solid Waste Management Association, admits that "these technologies are promising, but," he says, "to suggest that this technology could eliminate the need for landfills in the next 15 years is just phooey."

Tags: Treasure Coast, Energy & Utilities, Environment

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