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Garbage Eating Machines Go Small-Scale

Burning garbage is so yesterday now you can gasify it. And Waltham, Mass.-based IST Energy wants to bring the waste-to-energy technology to the masses. The business masses, that is.

The Green Energy Machine, or GEM, which IST is launching today, is about the size of a large garbage dumpster — and apparently very noisy. Designed to be parked at the back of an office building, mall or college campus, a GEM can turn up to three tons of trash per day, including paper, wood, plastic, food and agricultural waste, into 120 kilowatts of electricity, as well as the equivalent of 240 kW of heat.

While there could be a significant reduction in emissions related to the transport and landfilling of all that garbage, as well as savings on garbage collection costs, it’s not an emission-free system.


The garbage is broken down with downdraft gasification, which uses high heat to decompose the trash in a controlled process that produces no emissions, according to the company. Small fuel pellets are then created from the decomposed trash, with gasification used again to convert the pellets into syngas. The syngas is then used in a traditional generator, and that generator, like most generators, produces emissions when the syngas is burned, although the company claims those emissions are offset by the other, emission-reducing parts of the system.

IST, part of research, development and engineering company Infoscitex, isn’t the only company working on a small scale waste-to-energy system. The U.S. Army is testing out a similar size unit that was developed by McLean, Va.-based defense contractor Defense Life Sciences, Purdue University and the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland. But the TGER, or Tactical Garbage to Energy Refinery, has to tackle a bit more than just garbage. It also has to stand up to the extremely hot and sandy conditions in Iraq.

But unlike countries like Iraq, in the U.S., IST’s system will have to go up against an already available recycling and composting infrastructure in many states. And composting doesn’t make any noise at all.

IST, which has received funding through the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research program and an angel investor, said the GEM system is currently being demonstrated at its headquarters. It’s scheduling customer demonstrations of the technology and expects deliveries to start this summer.

7 Responses to “Garbage Eating Machines Go Small-Scale”

  1. Anthony Dothsuk

    Are there any large scale machines designed to attack existing landfill installations? These machines would rework existing landfill areas by disecting the piles of existing trash and leave only clean useable soil behind? Does this type of machine exist? If not, why not?