Environment New power plants would produce energy from trash

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A businessman wants to build two trash-powered energy plants in the state using a process called thermal gasification that he says is cleaner and more efficient than incinerating trash to produce energy.

"People say they don't want an incinerator in their back yard. That's good, because that's not what we make," Lloyd Mahaffey, of Eagle, told the Idaho Statesman. "This technology is gasification, not incineration."

Mahaffey, the CEO of Dynamis Energy, said he wants to build one plant in Ada County in southwest Idaho and another in Clark County in eastern Idaho.

The two plants could power 10,000 homes by converting 250 tons of trash a day. He said the trash is heated in a chamber without oxygen, breaking it down into gas that can then be burned to produce energy.

About 95 percent of the trash is destroyed in the process, he said.

"Burying our waste is the second-dumbest thing humans do," said Mahaffey, noting No. 1 is always up for debate. "Every ton of waste stream we process is one ton the county doesn't have to bury."

He said there's more interest in such plants because landfills are filling up and it's expensive to build new ones, technology has advanced to make trash-to-energy plants more viable, and there are government incentives for renewable energy.

Dynamis Vice President Pete Johnson said the technology the company plans to use leapfrogs earlier attempts at turning trash into power. He said even advanced incinerators produce emissions that require an expensive process to make the emissions safe.

According to a report from the Energy Recovery Council in Washington, D.C., 86 waste-to-energy plants operated in 24 states with the capacity to process more than 97,000 tons of municipal waste per day in 2010.

Mahaffey said most of those use older technology that requires so much electricity there's little net gain in electricity produced, while the new technology overcomes that problem.

The company also said the process uses items such as tires, medical waste and plastics, which are materials that are difficult to destroy or store. The company has also designed a small gasification system using trash that could be used to produce energy and get rid of waste following a natural disaster.

Published: Tue, Feb 22, 2011

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