Plasma Gasification: Turning Hazardous Waste into Value

June 26, 2008
Residual chemicals can be converted into clean synthesis gas, which can then be further converted to hydrogen and other valuable chemicals.

Modern science has given us incredible breakthroughs in medicine, biology, agriculture, transportation, electronics, and communications, but along with the benefits come problems as well. Virtually all modern industries produce some level of residual chemicals, many of which are toxic or hazardous, and all of which must be treated or disposed of in some manner, usually burial or incineration because they cannot be used under current manufacturing methods.

Modern science has also given us a solution to this vexing problem of hazardous waste. InEnTec Chemical, LLC, founded by scientists from MIT, Battelle, and GE, has commercialized a groundbreaking plasma gasification technology, the Plasma Enhanced Melter (PEM), that can use these chemicals as feedstock to produce valuable commercial products in a cost effective and environmentally sound manner. More and more industries are recognizing the value of sustainability strategies and are seeking technologies to gain value from their wastes.

InEnTec Chemical has just completed treatability studies of residual chemicals provided by four of the world's largest chemical companies. These demonstrations were conducted at Veolia Environmental Services' Port Arthur, Texas site using InEnTec Chemical's mobile PEM unit. The residuals were converted into clean synthesis gas, which can then be further converted to hydrogen and other valuable chemicals.

The participation by these foresighted chemical companies underscores their commitment to constant improvement in their overall environmental performance. The success of this demonstration proves a unique route for them to do so. No other technology exists to transform hazardous waste into valuable products on a commercial scale.

Upon the conclusion of these studies, Veolia Environmental Services, one of the country's leading providers of environmental Services, and Air Liquide, one of the world's leading industrial gas companies, announced separate partnerships with InEnTec Chemical to bring PEM technology to broad commercial availability. Veolia has agreed to be the operator of facilities based on InEnTec's PEM technology. Air Liquide has signed a letter of intent to supply industrial gases to InEnTec Chemical's planned facility and to purchase hydrogen generated by that facility.

Plasma gasification is not incineration and waste is not burned. Plasma gasification processes use an electrically generated plasma to provide temperatures approaching 10,000 degrees C to break down the feed materials into their elemental components. Organic feeds become synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide and a basic building block of the chemical industry. The synthesis gas can then be further processed into hydrogen, methanol, HyCO, and other products.

PEM technology is a unique version of plasma gasification in its combination of a DC plasma zone and an AC heated glass melter zone. This combination provides efficiencies and quality of synthesis gas far in excess of other gasification technologies. Inorganics and metals end up either entrained in a non-leachable glass, which can be used in numerous industrial applications, or as a metal alloy, available for refining. Therefore, when chemical residuals are used as feedstock in this process, PEM technology achieves close to 100% recycle. In certain applications, the feedstocks to the PEM system are no longer considered to be a hazardous wastes, so are excluded from the demands of RCRA. The PEM has been independently verified to meet or exceed the standards set by the EPA.

PEM technology is effective with the broadest array of feedstocks. For example, Kawasaki Heavy Industries purchased a system in 2003 to destroy PCB's and asbestos.

Global Plasma in Taiwan has been converting industrial and medical wastes into clean electric power since 2005. Last year, InEnTec signed a ten year contract with Dow-Corning to convert more than 20 tons per day of hazardous waste into synthesis gas and hydrochloric acid, eliminating the need for off-site transportation and disposal. In addition, a larger version of PEM technology has been demonstrated by InEnTec LLC, the parent company of InEnTec Chemical, to produce ultra clean synthesis gas from municipal solid waste. The ultra clean synthesis gas can be used to produce renewable fuels and other products such as ethanol or methanol.

Modern science is constantly rewarding us with new opportunities and presenting industries with new challenges. InEnTec Chemical has risen to one of the more difficult environmental challenges and is providing chemical companies and the communities in which they operate a "breath of fresh air" as they strive to meet shared goals of sustainability and a cleaner environment.

E. Gary Cook, is the CEO of InEnTec Chemical LLC, Chairman of InEnTec LLC , the parent company of InEnTec Chemical, and Chairman of Louisiana-Pacific Corp., a building products company.

Jeffrey E. Surma, President and CEO of InEnTec LLC is one of the inventors of the PEM process, has authored and/or presented over 45 technical publications, has been awarded 25 U.S. Patents, and is recognized as a leading authority in plasma technology, glass melter technology, and plasma gasification.

InEnTec Chemical LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of InEnTec LLC (formerly Integrated Environmental Technologies LLC), which was formed by scientists from MIT, Battelle, and GE. Through its proprietary gasification system, the Plasma Enhanced Melter(TM), InEnTec Chemical produces clean renewable products (such as hydrogen, methanol, and syngas) from virtually any organic material, including residuals currently managed as industrial and hazardous wastes.

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