Plasco's MSW to Energy

Back in October 2007, in our post “Ze-Gen’s Waste to Energy” we reported on a Massachusetts-based company, Ze-Gen, who appeared to be “possibly the furthest along in the race to develop technology to turn waste into fuel – eliminating the need for landfills in the bargain.” That was then. There are other contenders in this race…

Plasco’s Ottawa Waste-to-Energy Plant.
(Photo: Plasco Energy Group

Just one day after we posted this report, Plasco Energy Group, based in Ottawa, Canada, announced in a press release “Plasco Energy delivers power to Ottawa grid,” that they have completed a waste-to-energy plant and are beginning the commissioning process.


Plasco’s technology, as described in the “how it works” page on their website, begins with municipal solid waste (presumably pre-shredded) being fed into a primary chamber, where most of the waste is converted into gas.

The gas is then further cleaned in a secondary chamber and is then used to power internal combustion engines which turn a generator. The residual solid waste is transferred to a different chamber where it is melted and converted into ingots. Here is what Plasco claims their plant can do with one ton of municipal solid waste:

One Ton of Municipal Solid Waste Equals:
1.4 megawatt-hours of electricity
300 liters of potable quality water
7-15 kilograms of metal
5-10 kilograms of commercial salt
150 kilograms of construction aggregate
5 kilograms of agricultural fertilizer

It will be interesting to see how soon Plasco completes the commissioning process for this first plant and brings the facility into its full rated capacity of 85 tons (metric) of municipal solid waste per day. Given that on December 3rd, 2007, Plasco Energy Group closed an equity financing of C$54 million led by First Reserve Corporation of Greenwich, Connecticut, there is reason to believe they are breaking in their new plant according to plan.

There are interesting contrasts between the Plasco claims and those from Ze-Gen. Most significantly, Plasco has apparently solved the challenge of processing municipal solid waste, a feedstock that is more problematic to convert (mostly due to higher and less predictable water content) than construction debris. The energy recovery per ton (normalized to short tons) differs greatly when comparing municipal solid waste (1.4 megawatt-hours per ton according to Plasco) and construction debris (4.2 megawatt-hours per ton according to Ze-Gen. Presumably the composition of typical construction debris – 90% scrap lumber – accounts for the energy density claimed for construction debris being literally triple that of municipal solid waste.

Finally, should an energy density of 1.4 megawatt-hours per ton in the case of municipal solid waste be applied when calculating the energy production potential of the 100 million tons of construction debris and 220 million tons of municipal solid waste produced in the USA each year, then the percentage of total energy production in the USA that could be offset by converting 100% of these waste streams into energy (as we calculated in our report on Ze-Gen) is not 4.0%, but 2.5%. Still a worthy proposition.


10 Responses to “Plasco's MSW to Energy”
  1. ziggy says:

    The process at Plasco is being run by an egomaniac without the knowledge to operate the plant safely or properly and it is an environmental “whoops” waiting to happen. Nothing is accrding to plan. The media loves this place but no one does an in depth objective study with the knowledge required to understand what they are being spoon fed.

    Sorry I can’t identify myself.

  2. Jack Sprat says:

    Well Ziggy, whoever you are, nobody said it was going to be easy. Clearly based on the early stage of this industry, it is too soon to tell if we are going to get it right, or what company and technology may eventually deliver the design that scales.

  3. Irv Morrow, Chief Technology Officer, Ze-gen says:

    There are many different technologies out there working to solve our solid waste problem. Plasma gasification and molten iron gasification serve different purposes because the technologies optimally process different waste streams to produce energy. However, the Ze-gen system is attractive because the system has a relatively low energy input compared to its high energy output, making it an economically viable solution for handling everyday solid waste streams that nowadays end up in a hole in the ground. Plasma technology is great at converting solids into synthesis gas, but in doing so it uses a great deal of energy, making the net energy output from processing municipal waste streams much less than the output from a Ze-gen system. Economic viability remains to be seen on all of these technologies.

  4. TruthSeeker says:

    As for determining commercial viability, Bryden suggests the tipping fees that Plasco will charge municipalities for accepting their waste would almost always be cheaper than the typical rate — between $50 and $75 a tonne — for dumping garbage in landfill sites. Plasco’s two-year contract with Ottawa cites a tipping fee of $40 a tonne, similar to what the city pays to send its waste to a landfill, but Bryden suggests a $65 fee would be more likely in future contracts.

    …so that is how Plasco is going to make money on this. Taxpayers take cover.

  5. TrashInfoSeeker says:

    The real trick is to come up with a process that can stand on its own without a tipping fee or government grants. We should be able to convert an energy source like MSW to electricity and connect it to the grid and make enough money to cover the debt. When the entire plant from trash delivery to connection to the grid makes economic sense, then I’ll invest.

  6. Brezzlin says:

    Another rapidly developing and very promising WTE is this from IPGW. They are currently beginning the development of an Industrial waste facility in Egypt under an EXCLUSIVE 25 year license that guarantees them ALL waste from the country. http://www.international-power.com has all of the current updates and according to them, this project should be moving forward to revenues as soon as 12 weeks now.

    Their plant will reduce 180 tons per day per module. Produce 6Mw/hr and up to 250k gallons of potable water per day. The remaining waste is for similar use as outlined above.

    They also have an exclusive license to build up to 15 WTE’s in Saudi Arabia worth billions….and is in planning…

  7. Mario says:

    At the Renewable Energy Convention in Las Vagas I saw a company (International Environmental Systems) that has a plant approved to operate in LA County that converts MSW to carbon char and heat. I believe they get about 1MWhr per ton of MSW (the actual number depends on energy content of MSW). I could not find any drawbacks to their system. They published exhaust gas sniffing results, all about 20% of what an incinerator produces. The technology is out there to eliminate putting MSW and industrial waste in landfills, lets hope industry and gov’t can work together to field these technologies.

  8. A group of investors from Costa Rica are going to Canada (Plasco HQ), Genetech (conn) and Covanta Energy (NJ).

    We are looking into their technologies and manufacturing guarantees of these systems (they all use Westinghouse plasma tech).

    If any of you guys have a some guidance or tips regarding our possible investmente and/or business I will appreciate it

    Jose Pablo Chaves
    506 8847 4391

  9. Iain says:

    Jose Pablo,

    I would be very interested in your thoughts on these technologies after your visits. We are looking at similar ideas for development in South East Asian countries that are likely to have similar waste composition and ‘wet waste’ issues to you. Please contact me at ijbrewster at hotmail dot com.

    Regards,

    Iain

  10. Andy says:

    From various literature that I have read, the average generation per ton of MSW seems to be 0.025 MWH.

    I am confused by these really mega numbers cited by Plasco (1.4 MW) and ZeGen (4.2 MW), granted that they are a different segregated waste stream.

    Can anyone point me to the real average value of energy extracted per ton of waste from RDF (after all recyclable waste has been seperated).

    Thanks

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