Waste management fires up new trash-to-gas project

MIDLAND, MICHIGAN - Waste Management already generates renewable energy by incinerating trash and converting methane from its miles of landfills.

Now the company is wading into a new venture that can turn garbage into synthetic gas for heating, ethanol or electricity. The move also gets Waste Management closer to its goals of doubling renewable energy production by 2020 and investing in new waste technologies.

Houston-based Waste Management and InEnTec LLC have formed a 50-50 joint venture developing plasma gasification facilities to process waste.

The joint venture, called S4 Energy Solutions, will use InEnTec’s Plasma Enhanced Melter technology, while Waste Management will offer its waste collection and management expertise. As the technology’s name suggests, an electricity-conducting gas known as plasma heats the waste to between 10,000 and 20,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which transforms the garbage into synthetic gas, also called syngas.

InEnTec's Plasma Enhanced Melter technology will begin processing industrial byproducts at Dow Corning's Midland, Mich., facility in late 2009.

The syngas can be converted to electricity, diesel or ethanol, a natural gas substitute, or industrial products such as hydrogen or methanol.

The technology can process several types of waste, including radioactive and old tires, but the venture will begin with medical and other commercial and industrial wastes because they are of “high-energy value” and can produce renewable fuels, products and possibly energy.

S4 Energy Solutions also will work to make the technology both economical and scalable in order to one-day process municipal solid waste.

The technology is being used in Japan, Taiwan, and Richland, Va.; a plant at a Michigan-based Dow Corning facility is now under construction.



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