Gallery: Plasma Plants Vaporize Trash While Generating Energy


Recently St. Lucie County in Florida announced that it has teamed up with Geoplasma to develop the United States’ first plasma gasification plant. The plant will use super-hot 10,000 degree fahrenheit plasma to effectively vaporize 1,500 tons of trash each day, which in turn spins turbines to generate 60MW of electricity – enough to power 50,000 homes! Cutting down on landfill waste while generating energy is a pretty win-win proposition, and the plant will also be able to melt down inorganic materials to be reused for other applications, such as in roadbed and heavy construction.

Plasma gasification was invented by NASA 40 years ago to recreate re-entry temperatures for spacecraft. The process uses an electrical arc to heat up gas to form Plasma, which in turn breaks down waste. The intense heat of the plasma gasifies municipal waste, converting it into “syngas”, which is then cleaned to remove volatile elements. Next, the vapor is sent through a turbine to generate electricity.

Plasma Gasification plants generate much less emissions than standard waste incineration plants, and also cuts down on landfills, which are the US’s largest human caused producer of methane gas. No word yet on the cost-effectiveness of maintaining such plants (all that plasma gas and filtration must be expensive), but if Geoplasma is able to make the process more efficient they could simultaneously solve our landfill problems while generating a significant amount of energy.

+ Geoplasma

Via Scientific American


or your inhabitat account below


  1. Mule September 1, 2010 at 6:42 am

    I think this will be one of the best inventions since the wheel. Can this technology be down sized to accomodate a viable solution for transportation? Kill 2 birds with one stone, haul the trasn out to the car and pass the gas pump. Winderful idea!

  2. fruits123456 February 9, 2010 at 11:13 am


  3. fruits123456 February 9, 2010 at 11:11 am


  4. Oleksandr Ziborov May 31, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Is real efficiency?

  5. Felix Staratschek January 3, 2009 at 11:49 am

    My be, its the best incineration. But is it as good as the best recycling? Does it work, when you optimize recycling? What is with nanoparticles? The answer, how the halogens are collected was not given. Kryo- recycling and biological treatment are much better. Every incineration is generating the production of new materials which needs an input of energy. All computers which are just using could be recycled with kryo- recycling:

  6. SamClemens December 14, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Oh and the cost (as quoted in popsci) is 10 million. That’s plenty cheap for a city/county government.

  7. SamClemens December 14, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    I’m going to lobby my city government. We have 50K residents, this would be perfect! Let’s go everyone, together, into the future!

  8. rh88 November 20, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    It’s a proven technology, the U.S. Navy implements it in the PAWDS project and it has been picked up by Carnival Cruise Lines on their commercial liners. When this hits the commercial market, it’ll be bigger than post-it notes. Characterisitc of the process is the variety of fuel stocks accepted and likewise, the variety of energy related products available. Process variables can be altered to produce a pure hydrogen stream, grid available electricity through turbine generators, one can use F-T process to obtain biofuels for transportation, even a Bio jetfuel is obtainable.

    Proprietary methods quench the obtained fuel gas at a high enough temperature and low pH to disallow the formation of furans and dioxins. The high temperatures obtainable through the use of plasma as a heat source raises the thermal efficiency of the process resulting in a smaller project footprint as well as decreased size and cost for the necessary gas scrubbing equipment.

  9. itmchris November 17, 2008 at 3:35 am

    I’m honestly annoyed with idiots like “cgarvin”. Please, do NOT post if you have no clue what you are talking about, your personal opinion is not a fact, it is your opinion, so please, do not spread lies/half-truths here.

    1. “It uses an tremendous amount of energy to create the plasma arc and rarely energy balances. ”
    I assume your basing this comment on your many years in the industry? No? How about your vast piles of data and research you’ve poured through…no? really? how about a single article or piece of data??? NO?! So you’ve never heard of this technology before and automatically assumed it is a failure… good to know.

    Well, how about my personal opinion/fact. This device, which creates the ‘plasma arc’ as it’s commonly known, WILL produce more energy then it takes to run it. Why is my opinion fact and yours utter non-sense? Because mine is based on fact. Please note in this article it says that this will be the first such station in the ‘United States’, not the world. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (where I use to live not to long ago) has a small scale version up and running, it only does 200 tonnes a day, but it manages to produce more energy then it uses. Japan also has plasma arc technology, although their pilot facilities only burned through 166 tonnes a day, and they did fail to produce more energy then they used. Does this mean the technology is unviable like cgravin claims? No, not even a little. Small-scale plants are not as effecient as large scale plants. They need to produce the same strength plasma arc as a large scale plant, so putting through a small amount of trash is not the smartest design, hence why these are pilot facilities that serve as a proof of concept. They were build yearrssss ago, late 1990’s if memory serves. There have been a lot of advancements in the technology since then, otherwise no one would be investing in these facilities! Yes, there is empirical evidence to back this up.

    2. “Pulverizing trash releases heavy metals into the atmosphere that leads to our rivers, streams, and aquifers.”
    And where did you dig up this gem? So dumping all of our trash into big piles on the ground (trash yards) is better for the environment? Hell, let’s just throw it in the lake while we’re at it! Or the ocean! No, Plasma Arc breaks down trash…not pulverize it in the sense where you crush it. How many things have you run through at 10k degrees? Not much I’d imagine, the fact is, most of it is incinerated and there is almost no by-product.

    Also, next time, BEFORE you post, READ the article, not just the title.
    “Plasma Gasification plants generate much less emissions than standard waste incineration plants,”
    So, the article has even stated that we’ll be putting LESS emissions into the air…and where are you getting this we’ll be putting more into the air? Cause that’s not how I read this. But then again, I’m reading it in English, not make believe.

    Edwin made a nice point here, recyclable materials and heavy metals can be removed from the trash entering the plasma arc…the plasma arc runs most effectively on organic matter anyway…

    So, I hope this has dis-spelled any idiocy that Cgravin has attempted to disseminate, I sincerely apologize for his comments to everyone who reads this and I whole-heartedly support implementing an minimum IQ requirement to post from now on so that we no longer have to listen to uneducated prattle that undermines important advancements in renewable/sustainable technologies such as this.

    Thank you.

  10. Novel Energy Uses November 15, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    […] we wrap things up today with a story announced just this week: a new venture seeks to develop power plant which will use plasma to vaporize trash and produce enoug…. The article is vague on whether such a method would be cost-effective, but it potentially offers a […]

  11. Padburgler November 13, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    This technology really will work. First to the comment above, this is very sustainable. The only energy needed is to start the process. Once started the machine will generate enough energy to keep itself running plus extra energy to be put into the grid. The energy balances because you are adding fuel to it the process the entire time. It is not a perpetual motion machine. It needs the trash to work, but we are not running out of that any time soon.

    Second, the output gas is very clean. With the machine I’ve read about (Starteck’s machine in the second picture) they have a complex and highly efficient system of separators and scrubbers. In the end only hydrogen and other useful gasses like methane are produced. Anything else is trapped and contained. The trapped waste is stored in a stable inert medium which can then be deposed of properly.

    In the end, this process takes trash and turns it into useful products in the form of gasses and energy. The little byproducts that are left behind are in a much more stable form than they probably were as trash. The only drawback to this process that I’ve seen so far is that it is CRAZY expensive to start up. After that, though, it pretty much runs itself.

  12. Jerramy November 13, 2008 at 11:56 am

    Well I definately think you can get more energy out of it than you put into it. I mean, if I lit fire to that big pile of plastic and paper, I’m sure it would burn (nastily I’m sure).

    If you could burn it cleanly, that’d be great. We have piles of cardboard and paper lying around, which is “supposed” to get recycled, but just sits in piles rotting, because we like our coffee cups and printer paper white. And bleaching it is time consuming and energy wasteful.

    But even if you take a bunch of the metal and ceramic out of the trash first, there’s still going to be loads of elements in the mix besides hydrogen and carbon. Chlorine and sulfur are in many plastics. Are you going to be able to seperate and capture these elements, or does that just get dumped into the air after throwing it through the turbine?

    Of course, once we all get with the program and move into domes, we won’t have to worry about any of that.

  13. Edwin November 13, 2008 at 10:39 am

    A false dichotomy above, c’mon folks, things are not black and white.

    First, do the recycling and metals reclamation FIRST; nobody said that ALL TRASH had to be run through this thing, don’t be silly.

    Second, starting the plasma is going to cost energy but to be commercially viable the energy released by the trash will have to be able to both sustain the plasma plus create extra energy. This is part of the process of making it commercially viable.

  14. cgarvin November 13, 2008 at 8:59 am

    This is NOT a sustainable technology.
    It uses an tremendous amount of energy to create the plasma arc and rarely energy balances.

    Pulverizing trash releases heavy metals into the atmosphere that leads to our rivers, streams, and aquifers.

    Also, most of the trash that’s pulverized could be recycled or reused at a much higher value that as expensive energy.

  15. cesarpatricio November 12, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Just GREAT!!!!.
    I am really happy to read it. With hope – work and positivism we can move toward a more sustainable future.

get the free Inhabitat newsletter

Submit this form
popular today
all time
most commented
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
Federated Media Publishing - Home