One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or so the saying goes. And when it comes to trash, making it into treasure sometimes requires things like plasma torches. At least it does for one company in the growing waste-to-energy sector. Canada’s PlascoEnergy said private equity firm First Reserve has led an equity investment into the company, with the purchase of C$35 million in common shares. First Reserve will purchase an additional C$14.3 million purchase scheduled for the end of December.
First Reserve says it has allocated up to 10 percent of its current $7.8 billion fund for renewable energy. Plasco will use the investment to build new facilities modeled after their first one, which was completed in June of this year. The facility can process 100 tons of municipal waste a day, converting it into syngas which is then burned to produce electricity and sold to Hydro Ottawa. Plasco has high hopes for its waste-to-energy process, believing it could provide some of the highest energy returns possible.
The company uses “plasmagasification,” where a gasified garbage stream is exposed to an electrical arc — the so-called “plasma torch” — which converts the stream into a plasma at temperatures ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 degrees Celsius. The process is one of decomposition, however, not combustion, and takes place in the near-absence of oxygen. But it can handle nearly any type of trash, blasting waste back to its elemental roots, rich in carbon monoxide and hydrogen. And not much is left over — only about 0.2 percent of the initial mass comes out as waste in the form of activated carbon and heavy metals.
“Our sophisticated control system produces more power per ton of waste than any other waste conversion technology,” Alisdair McLean, director of programs, recently told The Discovery Channel. The Discovery Channel estimates that while New York City currently spends $90 per ton to dispose of garbage, with technology like Plasco’s, they could actually earn $15 per ton of trash by selling the trash to Plasco for energy and mineral generation, in theory.