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Power Hardware

Trash-To-Gas Power Plant Gets Greenlight 113

Posted by samzenpus
from the smell-of-power dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Beginning in a little more than a week, Green Power, Inc. of Pasco, Washington will be commencing the building of municipal-solid-waste-to-fuel plants for clients around the world, with $2 billion in contracts; now that an EPA ruling has exonerated GPI from an unnecessary shut-down order by the Washington Ecology Department last year. This fuel would be of higher quality and cheaper than fuel derived from crude oil — and it comes from local feedstock, while turning waste into energy. Now your laptop can turn into a quart of diesel fuel to power your trip to the dump. And the ocean gyres of trash the size of Texas can power Texas. This is an update on a Slashdot story from nine months ago.
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Trash-To-Gas Power Plant Gets Greenlight

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  • by cfc-12 (1195347)
    First (com)post!
    • by Bai jie (653604)
      This is great! Slashdot is a bastion of recycled news, now we can use this old news to power our PCs while we read old news! We've done it folks, we've created Perpetual Energy!
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @03:51PM (#34300272) Journal

    During early winter our yard has an almost 6-inch layer of leaves. If a service would scoop them up and take them away for free, they could use them for fuel. It would benefit 3 parties: us (leaf removal), the leaf processing company, and The Planet.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by noidentity (188756)

      During early winter our yard has an almost 6-inch layer of leaves. If a service would scoop them up and take them away for free, they could use them for fuel. It would benefit 3 parties: us (leaf removal), the leaf processing company, and The Planet.

      Even simpler: set them on fire. As a bonus, you get your house heated.

      • During early winter our yard has an almost 6-inch layer of leaves. If a service would scoop them up and take them away for free, they could use them for fuel. It would benefit 3 parties: us (leaf removal), the leaf processing company, and The Planet.

        Even simpler: set them on fire. As a bonus, you get your house heated.

        And you will be warm for the rest of your life.

      • by catman (1412)

        During early winter our yard has an almost 6-inch layer of leaves. If a service would scoop them up and take them away for free, they could use them for fuel. It would benefit 3 parties: us (leaf removal), the leaf processing company, and The Planet.

        Even simpler: set them on fire. As a bonus, you get your house heated.

        And you get to enjoy allergies, as well as torturing your allergic neighbours ... OTOH, municipal waste is incinerated in this town to provide hot water on a scale that allows thousands of oil-fired furnaces of all sizes to be shut down. This, plus scrubbing in the incinerators, improves air quality in the city.

    • by cheesybagel (670288) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @04:02PM (#34300324)
      Sounds like a great way to impoverish the soil even further. The trash burning I can sort of understand because a lot of these things do not degrade as easily and they take up a lot of volume. Plus a concrete and asphalt city could care less about soil conditions.
      • Sounds like a great way to impoverish the soil even further

        He seemed to be talking about residential areas, where leaves are often thrown away anyway. Using the leaves for energy wouldn't hurt the soil, since they're already being carted off and dumped in plastic bags rather than rotting on the ground.

    • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @04:26PM (#34300498) Journal

      Make like a tree, and get out of here!!

      Will this mean I can power my time machine with banana peals?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by icegreentea (974342)
      Many municipalities run special garden composting services. You rake/pick up your garden waste/trimmings/whatever, put it in this giant paper bag, and they come by every few weeks and pick it up and turn it to compost. Which you can then buy back. And before you go yelling about them taking your stuff and selling it back to you, you -could- just compost it yourself. But you won't cause it's more work than you would like and smells bad. Which is precisely why they have to charge you for it.
      • by kent_eh (543303)

        you -could- just compost it yourself. But you won't cause it's more work than you would like and smells bad.

        Except that it's trivially easy, and doesn't smell bad (or at all) if you do it right.
        And doing it right is not very difficult.

        Plus you get excellent free fertilizer (organic, even!) for your garden, trees or lawn.

        • by tyrione (134248)

          you -could- just compost it yourself. But you won't cause it's more work than you would like and smells bad.

          Except that it's trivially easy, and doesn't smell bad (or at all) if you do it right. And doing it right is not very difficult. Plus you get excellent free fertilizer (organic, even!) for your garden, trees or lawn.

          Exactly. If your clippings are stinking up the area you're composting it wrong.

          • by catman (1412)

            you -could- just compost it yourself. But you won't cause it's more work than you would like and smells bad.

            Except that it's trivially easy, and doesn't smell bad (or at all) if you do it right. And doing it right is not very difficult. Plus you get excellent free fertilizer (organic, even!) for your garden, trees or lawn.

            Exactly. If your clippings are stinking up the area you're composting it wrong.

            And if your community has a pick-up service of this kind they will probably also give brief courses in home composting. When you really get into it, buy a hot-compost container for your food scraps and stop flushing them down the grinder into the sewage. Do the hot-compost right and it doesn't smell bad either.

        • by Inda (580031)
          I was going to say the same about the smell...

          Put the leaves in a black bin liner and tie it up. Stick a fork through the bag to make some air holes. Leave it for six months.

          I've had steam coming off mine in the winter. It's a lovely sight first thing on a winter morning.
      • by c6gunner (950153)

        Around here they don't charge for it. You just drive up, load up as much as you can carry, and drive away.

    • by yotto (590067)

      That would assuredly benefit you. It would only benefit the company if the money they made from the leaves was greater than the money spent collecting them (which could be tough). I won't speak on if it's good for the planet or not because I honestly don't know. The planet's gotten by for quite some time without leaf removal services, though.

  • Sim city 3000 had them in sim city 4 I like to put them all in one city with lot's high pollution industry in there own city and just set up deals with the clean city.

  • But But (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Idiomatick (976696)
    Waste to Power Generators produce heavy polution. Even if they do create 5000mwh it is hardly ever worth building. Better to use a few city ordinances to keep waste managed. And then build a nuclear power plant, fucking 16,000mwh for only 40grand hell yes.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kral_Blbec (1201285)
      And technology never improves efficiency or performance from older methodologies...
    • Waste to Power Generators produce heavy polution. Even if they do create 5000mwh it is hardly ever worth building. Better to use a few city ordinances to keep waste managed. And then build a nuclear power plant, fucking 16,000mwh for only 40grand hell yes.

      Must be either too early in the morning or too late at night for you.

      Heavy pollution? Exactly why? This (according to TFA) is a catalytic cracking system that appears to work on 'organic' (ie, hydrocarbon) waste. While I am sure that there are various and sundry heavy metals, annoyingly stable but biologically reactive chemicals and perhaps even the occasional radioactive compound in the organic waste, it doesn't appear like this process grinds up laptops and burns them.

      And a 16 MW nuclear reactor f

      • by Nethead (1563)

        The interesting thing is that Pasco boarders the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and Washington State's only nuclear power plant.

      • by Wyzard (110714)

        The GP is a reference to powerplants in SimCity, not in the real world.

      • Hey, all you have to do is call cousin Vinnie and say that I am weak and you will get that power plant for free.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Noughmad (1044096)

        SimCity != Real Life.

        But don't worry, nobody will have to work after fusion arrives in 2050, so you'll have some time to play then.

      • by oiron (697563)

        Heavy pollution? Exactly why? This (according to TFA) is a catalytic cracking system that appears to work on 'organic' (ie, hydrocarbon) waste. While I am sure that there are various and sundry heavy metals, annoyingly stable but biologically reactive chemicals and perhaps even the occasional radioactive compound in the organic waste, it doesn't appear like this process grinds up laptops and burns them.

        Well, I wonder what the energy cost of the conversion is: for any cracking of hydrocarbons, you need some energy input, and (in all probability) you'll end up losing some of the input mass to by-products. My questions with these kinds of "waste to energy" methods are,

        • What is the energy input, and the expected energy output? In other words, if you use 1 MW of power to produce 1 litre of gas, that's not a commercially viable option in the absence of subsidies at all.
        • What are the by-products of the reaction?
  • I grew up in central Washington and let me tell you, there is a lot of literal bullshit and cowshit there. I-82 from Yakima to the Tri-cities (Pasco is one) is a long line of stock yards and farms.

    The odd thing is that the Tri-cities is the bedroom community for the only active nuke power plant in the state, Hanford.

    • Except that those fuels are already being recycled into soil, then grass, then more cattle.

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)

        Except that those fuels are already being recycled into soil, then grass, then more cattle.

        Were you referring to the manure or the nuclear fuel? They're both "recycled into soil, then grass, then more cattle" around Hanford [google.com].

  • The story makes me curious as to why they were earlier ordered to shutdown. Anyone have the story behind that?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Amorymeltzer (1213818)

      From TFA: (yeah, yeah, I know)

      In August of 2009, GPI was shut down by Washington state's Ecology Department who said GPI had "not provided adequate compliance with the environmental air quality regulations." This was cleared on September 8, 2010 by an EPA ruling that support's GPI's claim and reverses Washington state's Ecology Department's claim that placed the GPI process in the class of incinerators, which it is not.

      According to the EPA:

      Green Power describes its process as a proprietary catalytic pressure-less depolymerization process (CDP) where municipal solid waste or a wide variety of organic wastes are 'cracked' at the molecular level and the long-chain polymers (plastic, organic material such as wood, etc.) are chemically altered to become short-chain hydrocarbons with no combustion. Combustion requires oxygen or a similar compound, but according to Green Power the CDP occurs in an anaerobic environment, exposed only to inert gases like nitrogen.

  • What I always wonder about with these waste-to-energy-it's-like-incineration-but-not-that-bad-kind-you-remember schemes is what happens with waste that is nasty on the level of the elements it contains, rather than just chemically.

    If you burn something hard enough(not always something you can expect a real-world plant to do, with out considerable care; but we'll be charitable) virtually anything that is nasty because of its chemical structure is no longer your problem. That's why they incinerate chemical
    • by timeOday (582209)
      Maybe you already answered this somewhere in there and I just didn't get it - but is the process in this story (creating liquid fuel) better than just incinerating the waste to make electricity onsite? That seems more direct. All the stuff that would have to be caught by smoke scrubbers, where does it go in this liquid fuel plant?
      • by sunspot42 (455706)

        In theory this process could be a lot better, since the point is to break the polymers in the waste down into simpler hydrocarbon chains and then burn only those. At least that's my understanding. All the nasty stuff either gets degraded down into simple hydrocarbons and burns (cleanly) or is left behind as solid or liquid residue, which you can then dispose of.

    • by sjames (1099)

      Don't worry, the heavy metals will eventually be sequestered in concrete lined vaults, just as soon as the poor saps that accumulate it in their bones die.

  • by steveha (103154) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @06:44PM (#34301280) Homepage

    From TFA:

    In August of 2009, GPI was shut down by Washington state's Ecology Department who said GPI had "not provided adequate compliance with the environmental air quality regulations." This was cleared on September 8, 2010 by an EPA ruling that support's GPI's claim and reverses Washington state's Ecology Department's claim that placed the GPI process in the class of incinerators, which it is not.

    So the government of my state caused major problems for GPI, and the federal government had to overrule the state. That's just great.

    According to TFA, GPI's plant operates using "a proprietary catalytic pressure-less depolymerization process (CDP)" yet the state Department of Ecology (DoE) insisted on regulating the plant as if it were an incinerator plant, which it clearly isn't.

    We have a liberal Democrat for a governor, the Democrats have a complete lock on the state legislature, and plenty of liberal voters. Our governor claims to be in favor of the environment, in favor of business that helps the state, in favor of jobs, etc. Where was she when the state DoE was causing these problems?

    I really wonder at the politics behind this. If this is random bureaucrats just being pointlessly bureaucratic, why didn't any other part of government get involved and help resolve this? Where were the state senators and representatives from the Pasco area? Did the governor just never hear of this, and if so, how is that possible?

    If I were governor and something like this happened, I would very publicly intervene. There's no political downside! The governor has more power than bureaucrats at the DoE, and the voters would love to hear that a green energy project was helped out. So why didn't that happen?

    P.S. This of course reminds me of the other thermal depolymerization [wikipedia.org] plant, the plant in Carthage, Missouri [discovermagazine.com] that processed turkey offal into energy and fuel. That plant was shut down several times, over allegations of a bad smell; the bad smell was reported at least once on a day that the plant wasn't operating. Eventually they installed upgraded scrubbers on their exhaust stacks and resumed operation. The company, Changing World Technologies [wikipedia.org] went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy [gigaom.com] and I guess the TDP plant was shut down. That seems crazy to me; the price of crude oil is high, so they should be able to run their plant at a profit. I guess they are just in too much trouble financially to even run the plant right now?

    I hope this "CDP" plant in Pasco works out better than the Changing Worlds one did.

    steveha

    • by greggle (148323) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @09:04PM (#34302026)

      It is not as cut-and-dried as TFA (I prefer to call it press-release journalism) claims.

      From the Tri-City Herald: http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2010/11/21/1260850/pasco-biomass-company-plans-to.html [tri-cityherald.com]

      There are plenty of so-called businessmen out there with grandiose plans of converting biomass to energy without any pollution. Unfortunately, this sounds like one of them.

      • by steveha (103154) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @11:23PM (#34302742) Homepage

        There are plenty of so-called businessmen out there with grandiose plans of converting biomass to energy without any pollution. Unfortunately, this sounds like one of them.

        If you read the related links, you will see that GPI really can produce a quality product; according to this page [peswiki.com] you can take the output of their test plant and pour it into the tank of a diesel truck and it will just work. And if you read the claims, it seems it doesn't pollute the air while doing it (impurities from the input stream come out the far end as some sort of solid). Some combustible gas is produced as a by-product of the reaction (methane, I guess) and they plan to burn that to provide power to operate the plant, making it self-fueling. (The same thing is true of the Changing Worlds plant that converts turkey offal to oil.) In short, if these web pages are true, GPI is not making "grandiose claims" that aren't true.

        Also, GPI seems to have some real problems paying bills on time. That has nothing to do with the technology. (And the Washington state DoE shutting them down didn't exactly help GPI to pay their bills on time.)

        It seems the DoE shut them down because the DoE believes that GPI should have filed some paperwork related to burning trash. GPI went to the federal EPA and got a ruling [pesn.com] that their process does not fall into the category of burning trash, and thus the DoE was wrong to require trash-burning paperwork.

        I'm wondering if GPI could have avoided the problems by talking to the DoE more up front. One of the articles quoted a DoE representative as saying that the DoE had no idea what might come out of this plant, since nobody from GPI had filed any paperwork. But GPI filed paperwork with the EPA... are we to believe they withheld details of their process from the Washington state government but were willing to disclose the details to the EPA? If so, why?

        I can't sleuth out the truth by reading all the newspaper articles on the web, so I don't know for sure what exactly is going on. I just hope that they get this thing going... efficiently turning waste into usable fuel is a win every way you look at it.

        They claim they can produce diesel at a cost of less than $0.80 per gallon; at gas stations near me, diesel costs over four times that much, so they ought to be able to sell all the diesel they can make at a tidy profit. Then maybe they can pay back all the people to whom they owe money.

        steveha

        • by greggle (148323)

          I am a total skeptic of this plant, but good luck to him if it works.

          Reading through the stories, I see they are burning methane. And the process produces 10 tons of ash per 100 tons input, destined for cement kilns and the like. Will we get to know what is in that ash, or is it a 'trade secret?'

          So obviously there is some permitting process with the state he has to go through.
          I trust my state to determine whether his plant can do what it says without adding to pollution problems rather than his word.

          Washing

  • But think of New Jersey! That state alone could power the country!
  • Feedstock in this context refers mainly to natural organics, such as leaves and twigs, corn stalks and husks, etc. As such, this plant is probably not so different from the "thermal reactors" that are currently making fuel oil from processed chicken parts and other such dross

    This operation is a good thing, don't misunderstand me. But for the foreseeable future, we will not be turning laptops into fuel oil.
    • by VTI9600 (1143169) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @08:03PM (#34301690)

      Actually, I think they are referring primarily to plastics that get thrown in the trash. "Feedstock" is just a generic term for the raw material that goes into any type of factory. Since your laptop's outer shell is probably made of plastic, it could theoretically be used in this process. Busted laptops are e-waste (i.e. hazardous material), hence the special regulations that govern the disposal and recycling thereof. Considering this, I doubt that they could be used as raw feedstock for the fuel-creation process. However, after a bit of dismantling, the plastic bits could be separated from the rest and fed into this factory.

      Nevertheless, I agree that randomly claiming that 1 laptop == 1 quart of diesel fuel is just plain silly...

      Now your laptop can turn into a quart of diesel fuel to power your trip to the dump.

      ...and what makes this guy think my car runs on diesel anyway? ;-)

      • "'Feedstock' is just a generic term for the raw material that goes into any type of factory."

        I am aware of this, and mentioned myself that in this context it referred basically to organics. I did say "natural", which is not strictly accurate, but that is what these plants are typically tuned to consume. The thermal-reactor plant near the Tyson chicken factory, for example, can process just about any kind of organics from chicken parts to grain to cornstalks... and I imagine plastics too; they have been mentioned before. But they have to "fine tune" the process to the particular mix in each batch of

      • Maybe they're assuming that if you go to the dump you're:

        A. driving a garbage truck
        B. driving something of your own that carries a large mass of 'stuff' there, like a diesel powered pickup.
        C. dropping your 30 yr old VW Rabbit off there, and then taking a CNG city bus home :-P

  • This article from 2006: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/1677696/posts [freerepublic.com] "Arrangements are presently underway to receive technical verification and standardization, through Combustion Resources of Provo, Utah, as well as Idaho National Laboratories, two independent and nationally recognized research firms, which specialize in study and verification of similar technologies. Their initial analysis should be complete within a few weeks. What does it mean to say 'arrangements are presently underway'? It
  • "Green Power describes its process as a proprietary catalytic pressure-less depolymerization process (CDP) where municipal solid waste or a wide variety of organic wastes are 'cracked' at the molecular level and the long-chain polymers (plastic, organic material such as wood, etc.) are chemically altered to become short-chain hydrocarbons with no combustion. Combustion requires oxygen or a similar compound, but according to Green Power the CDP occurs in an anaerobic environment, exposed only to inert gases like nitrogen."

    This sounds very similar to a heavy oil conversion unit, which takes long chains of hydrocarbons (organic materials) and breaks them into smaller molecules. Refineries have been doing this for decades! I'm not saying this isn't good to reduce overall waste or anything like that, but unless I'm missing something, this is hardly new technology...

    As a couple examples of conversion units:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coker_unit [wikipedia.org]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluid_catalytic_cracking [wikipedia.org]

    • Not all organic materials are hydrocarbons (exclusively hydrogen and carbon atoms). Cellulose, for example is chains of sugar (contain oxygen besides the hydrogen and carbon). Plenty of plastics are not hydrocarbons either.
      • by SteelFist (734281)
        True, I was focusing on hydrocarbons because that's what this technology is usually applied for. But the basic process of taking a long molecular chain and breaking it into multiple smaller chains seems pretty similar to what is done on hydrocarbons, even if the chain contains oxygen as well.
  • I would think the EPA could only stop them from running their own plant in the US, but not from producing the parts to install overseas. Can anyone find one specific location mentioned where one of these will be going? Or one foreign official that will admit to buying one of these?
    • Reading comprension is good...

      The agency that was causing them pain was the Washington (I presume) department of Ecology (http://www.ecy.wa.gov perhaps) for their pilot plant in Pasco, Washington. The EPA finally told them they could get back to whatever they're doing there, probably showing the place off to investors and prospective clients.

      As for the 'where are they going' question:
      "Spitzauer, says that GPI has over $2 billion dollars in signed contracts for GPI plants, including in Vietnam, Spain, Fran

      • by kdataman (1687444)

        I think my 'comprension' is fine.

        Why would someone with a signed contract care about the pilot project halting? They are already convinced. Running the pilot shouldn't affect building the parts for the install.

        But even if that was a holdup, if GPI wants to brag about a real location in France don't you think they would mention the city? Don't you think that a location in South American would at least mention the country? I could find nothing else on this anywhere. There is nothing specific enough for so

  • I heard you can power a pickup truck with Horse Poop....

    At least that is what the History Channel says in Apocalypse PA.

  • The EPA estimates that 30% to 50% of solid waste in at least some areas of the US is generated from construction and demolition of buildings. Of that, about 55% is from demolition with the remainder being from construction and remodeling. Of what construction and demolition waste hits landfills, 30% to 40% is lumber.

    Most C&D waste, including lumber, brick, concrete blocks, poured concrete, pipes, plumbing fixtures, wiring, flooring, drywall, glass, and asphalt can be either reconditioned or recycled.

    So

  • More Fischer-Tropsch Evil, Go Vivoleum instead
  • Got one already (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dismentor (592590)
    I'm from the Isle of Man; we already have one of these.
  • >ruling has exonerated GPI from an unnecessary shut-down order by the Washington Ecology Department last year.
    Seriously, the oil companies are at it again, get this revoked so they can still sell their oil, where as this technology will be able to help prevent needs on overseas supplies. I am glad it is up and running again.

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