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Garbage In, Power Out: How Trash Can Power Ethanol Plants

A win-win situation for the local government, utilities, and industry.

Fortnightly Magazine - February 2007

MSW business, while the utility or industry stays in the electrical, steam, or ethanol energy businesses. This appears to be a win-win situation for the local government, utility, and local industry.

Case 1 presents the preliminary economics of a plasma-arc gasification facility combined with an ethanol plant (such as for the Linn County/Cedar Rapids, Iowa, area) for a facility processing 706 tons/day of MSW. The cooperative venture results in a “tipping fee” for the MSW of $35/ton and a selling price of ethanol at $1.80 per gallon. A tipping fee of $35/ton of MSW is typical for Linn County, Iowa 2,3.

Net revenue before taxes from combined facility operation = [revenue-expenditures] = $16.95 million per year.

Both the plasma arc plant and the ethanol plant contribute to positive net revenue.

Case 2 presents an economic evaluation similar to the previous case, but the selling price of ethanol is $2.5541/ gallon. 13

The net revenue before taxes from combined facility operation = [revenue-expenditures] = $54.655 million per year. As before, both the plasma arc plant and the ethanol plant contribute to positive net revenue.

Future Progress

A logical approach is to take the initial economics presented for a particular area and periodically update the analysis through a cooperative effort among governmental bodies and industrial entities, so both parties will have a fully transparent evolvement and trust in the final economic analysis. Thus, this factual, transparent, updated economic analysis therefore will determine the final approach taken by both government and industry for that particular area investigated to determine if plasma arc gasification is an economically and environmentally attractive alternative to a landfill when integrated with an ethanol plant.

A utility or business company in partnership with a local government likely would be the most economical combination, and it would have the most positive benefit to the environment and financial reward to the local area. The economics presented here are preliminary; such evaluations are site specific, and plasma processing of MSW is an emerging technology.

With some diligence, a viable business plan can be developed from the consideration of the many factors influencing the economics associated with a specific site selection and surrounding community.



1. Dr. Louis J. Circeo, Engineering & Environmental Applications of Plasma Arc Technology, Technological Forum, Kirkwood Training and Outreach Services center, Marion, Iowa, Nov. 22, 2005


2. “Expert touts plasma torch,” The Gazette, November 22, 2005

3. “Plasma arc technology may help Linn garbage woes,” The Gazette, Nov. 20, 2005

4. Circeo, Louis, J., “Engineering & Environmental Applications of Plasma Arc Technology,” Presentation, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Atlanta, GA, 2005

5. Circeo, Louis, J. and Smith, Michael S., “Plasma Processing of MSW at Coal-Fired Power Plants,” Presentation, Health and Environmental Systems Laboratory, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA; 2005

6. Vera, Rod, “Organic Waste, Gasification and Cogeneration,” Presentation, Trinity Plasma Tech

nology, Technologies International Corp., Trinity Consultants Inc., 2005

7. Lee, C.C., “Plasma Systems,” Standard Handbook of Hazardous Waste Treatment and Disposal, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, (1989), p. 8.169

8. Recovered Energy,