Kelly Mead | |

A big worry today is what to do with all the waste that is disposed of in our everyday lives. Where is all the wrappers, napkins, uneaten food, worn clothing, broken furniture, etc that needs to be disposed of going? and how do we make trash a positive effect for our environment. Recycling and reuse are great options but what about the pizza box that can’t be recycled or the torn pants that can’t be repaired, they should be able to make a difference too.

So while prowling the forum over at TreeHugger a discussion of if it was an energy source was found. Which reminded us of two options for small or large scale renewable power can come from garbage. Methane harvesting and incineration of that which can’t get a second life as usable product.

Methane harvesting is a viable option especially in todays calling for alternative fuel options. Methane can be harvested and sold as is or could be piped to an electric plant to produce electricity, which then can be sold. Back in 2000 NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center awarded a contract to the Toro Energy to use landfill gas. According to the release at the time of the contract:

Goddard plans to purchase no less than $900,000 of landfill gas annually. The unit gas cost includes the costs of building facilities to accommodate the delivery of gas. The Center also intends to expand use of the gas to alternate-fueled vehicles, and possibly to become a centralized government fueling station. Other possible applications for using the landfill gas may be powering chillers in the power plant, or even electrical generation.

So the idea to do this has already been implemented in large scale projects and seven years in to this contract there has not been a large outcry (nor that we’ve heard small) about this not being a working option. No outcrying of harmful side effects from employees of the base, landfill or residents living between the two of health concerns. Considering the skepticism and some downright disapproval in the public at the time it was implemented that is almost a miracle in itself.

Burning trash is another option that is possible. In Baltimore City there is a plant, one of only 16 in the country, that has been doing it since 1984. Considering that at that time most plants of this type were still the dirty, polluting ones in our nightmares, it’s amazing that it is actually a source of pride to our city (at least the ones who realize it’s there and what it does). There is no haze that hangs around or odors that can be smelled miles away. The plant. Wheelabrator Baltimore Inc., has actually worked to help clean up the area and become a symbol of the ideal waste burning plant.

Their first step is to remove metal that can be recycled and has removed over 150 million pounds of metal and recycled it into the scrap metal market since 1984. After that it continues to process the waste until it becomes ash. This ash is then sold to landfills to cover or go between layers of trash. Surrounding the burning trash are power boilers which are designed to recover and “recycle” the thermal energy released by the garbage during burning. Which is done by using high pressure steam to recover the energy. This steam can then be used to produce 60,000 kilowatts of electrical energy with its turbine generator to convert the steam into electrical energy. On top of that it can supply up to 300,000 pounds per hour of direct steam heating or summer cooling (using chillers) for downtown Baltimore.

So this plant is paid to take the trash, paid for the electricity and steam it produces, paid for the metal it returns to the market, and paid for the ash of burned garbage to be used in landfills, and then only has to dispose of 10% of the mass that it started with. The only down side of this is that the filters used to keep pollutants from being introduced into the air are expensive and need frequent changes. Though it still makes enough to keep going…okay, more then enough.

The only problem is that no one wants one of these in their backyards. This plant was built in an industrial area that was not in the best part of town. It has actually improved the area by cleaning it up and building the largest Trash Can, according to the Guinness Book Of World Records. Our two new stadiums are even built just around the corner from it.

Though a couple years ago when a second plant was proposed on the outskirts of Baltimore the neighborhoods didn’t want anything to do with it and successfully stopped it from happening. In defense of the neighborhoods it had had a plant there before that was not properly maintained or filtered which cause enough health hazards for the EPA to shut it down. So even if this plant is a testament to how it could and should be done getting passed the stigma associated with this type of energy production ranks right up there with nuclear.

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