Use the power in your rubbish

2011-12-17 14:17

Imagine if you could take the rubbish lying around and produce fuel to fire up a tractor or power a generator.

This futuristic-sounding technology is not so far-fetched at all.
In fact, if you have R3 million lying around, you can purchase your own personal little fuel-making plant – if you generate three?tons of garbage per day.

The new technology, BeauTi-fueL, was on show for two weeks at COP17 in Durban.

The strategically placed container at the entrance of the exhibition area attracted a lot of attention.
The lure of using your waste to produce fuel was simply too good to ignore.

BeauTi-fueL is a joint venture by the Centre Of Material and Process Synthesis, which is based at the University of the Witwatersrand and the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa.

It works by converting waste into synthetic gas using plasma technology – the same technology that brings about a welding arc – in a plasma gassifier at a temperature of 1 500°C.

Thereafter, the gas is converted into liquid fuel at 250°C.

It can handle just about any waste because the technology was originally developed to find a solution to deal with the most problematic of waste – low-level nuclear waste.

You can throw anything into the plant including biomass, municipal solid waste and even medical waste.

Dr Jaco van der Walt, one of the scientists who developed the technology, said the temperatures the BeauTi-fueL plant operated at was high enough to melt the needles and evaporate tissues.

Metals, such as the needles, would simply melt and fall to the bottom of the gassifier.

Van der Walt said BeauTi-fueL is a totally green technology with no by-products.

The container Van der Walt displayed at the show was a small, full-scale unit that would be ideal for small communities that want to power their homes through a generator, or a farmer who wants to produce diesel for his tractors.

At the moment, it is still unwise to power your bakkie or BMW with the fuels, but Van der Walt said the fuels could be used in generators and farming equipment.

The demonstration unit is capable of processing one to three tons of biomass and converting it into one to three barrels of liquid fuelsper day.

The plant was also designed to fit into a 12-metre container and is able to be transported with a truck.

Van der Walt said the plant would be low maintenance, requiring only limited technical knowledge, and with very low running costs.

“A large gassification plant would be able to gassify about 150 to 200 tons of landfill waste every day and can power almost 2?000 homes in the vicinity,” Van der Walt said, adding that the plant was ready for commercial applications.

To get the project off the ground, it would need R10 million as start-up capital, and R2 million thereafter to produce each mobile plant.

Though a unit costs R3 million at current costs, the developers expect that the manufacturing cost of each plant to fall to R1 million.

But Van der Walt believes it’s worth every penny.

He said: “This is a small price to pay for the tremendous benefit, including jobs that will be created.”

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