[NEWS] Turning Trash Into Gas May Finally Be A Thing

– by Kenneth Miller, July 22, 2016, Take Part


Photo: Max Whittaker

At WasteExpo 2016, the annual conference of the National Waste & Recycling Association, some 600 exhibits fill three cavernous floors of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Gleaming garbage trucks are on display, along with scrap metal shredders, conveyor belt systems, and pumps for spritzing deodorizer onto fetid landfills. Video screens show trash being sorted or baled, compacted or pulverized, by machines that resemble oversize Tonka toys.

The exhibitors are mostly male, and their fashion sense runs to the functional. Company-logo polos in cheerful colors predominate, tucked into khakis over middle-age paunches. But at the booth operated by a company called Sierra Energy, the vibe is different. The men’s shirts are black, and the tails hang over skinny jeans. There are women, too, in arty black dresses. The booth itself conveys an air of Zen-like mystery. What the hipsters are selling is nowhere to be seen. Instead, tufts of grass sprout from sleek pots on blond-wood tables. A banner shows two views of a trash heap—one in its unlovely natural hues, the other in a soothing shade of green. Superimposed on the images is a kind of koan: “I AM NOT GARBAGE. I AM FUEL. MONEY. OPPORTUNITY.”

Sierra Energy makes a gadget known as the FastOx gasifier, whose effect on refuse is as transformative as the banner implies. “We think of it as molecular recycling,” says CEO Mike Hart, a trim, balding 54-year-old with a jazzman’s goatee and a calmly impassioned manner. Unlike ordinary recycling, in which objects made of metal, glass, or plastic become other objects made of metal, glass, or plastic, the FastOx turns anything containing carbon—from orange peels to old tires to used syringes—into a blend of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This syngas (the term for any gas synthesized from carbonaceous feedstock) can be burned to generate electricity or reformulated into biofuels or industrial chemicals. The hydrogen content can be used to power emission-free fuel-cell vehicles or small power plants.

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