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Trashed: Plan to use plasma technology for garbage disposal

Ron Roberts
St. Lucie County solid waste division director Ron Roberts is still a believer in plasma technology for trash disposal. [Photo: Matt Dean]

From the Economist to Popular Science, the eyes of the waste-watching world turned to St. Lucie County after 2007 when it decided to build a plant that would zap garbage with artificial lightning to create gas to generate electricity.

Five years later, the only thing vaporized is the deal. The county has terminated its agreement with Atlanta-based Geoplasma, a unit of real estate developer Jacoby Group. County solid waste division director Ron Roberts says Geoplasma couldn’t get financing for the project because it couldn’t get a technology guarantee from the technology owner, Westinghouse Plasma. The county also couldn’t deliver on its end by locking in Fort Pierce’s trash stream to feed the plant, leaving only the county and Port St. Lucie to feed it. (Fort Pierce denies that its decision to dispose of its trash elsewhere killed the deal.)

Geoplasma’s Hilburn Hillestad says the company will focus elsewhere on applying the technology to hazardous and medical waste disposal. He also says plasma disposal could be financially viable in the Northeast, West Coast and Midwest, where landfill fees are higher.

Roberts says he still believes plasma disposal is the “most efficient method in the world,” but the county is looking for a company to build a standard gasification plant, which uses lower levels of heat to destroy trash and create gas for electrical generation or conversion into biofuels.