Cringley notes that we are on the verge of commercialization of plasma furnaces that can do 100 tons a day. I do like this idea very much:
Eric and Andrew Day propose going back to burning our trash, but instead of using open-air incinerators or even high-temperature Basic Oxygen furnaces, they like the idea of burning our crap in electric plasma furnaces at temperatures in excess of 15,000 degrees Celsius. Take everything that would have gone to the landfill, add to it, if you like, everything that would have been recycled, and even leave in the really bad stuff like medical waste, toxic waste, heavy metals, and radioactive waste. Grind it all up into little chunks, some of which could be in a chemical or water slurry, and pump it into the plasma furnace.
Plasma furnaces have been around for decades and are already used for disposing of medical waste in Japan. Most such furnaces are fairly small, though the Days have found one manufacturer that can make a plasma furnace capable of burning 100 tons of trash per day.
The plasma furnace, operating in a closed loop, generates a form of synthetic gas that can be burned as a fuel as well as a glasslike inert material that can be used as aggregate in concrete. That's what happens when you run your Pampers and plutonium and anthrax and last Sunday's chicken dinner through a 30,000-degree Fahrenheit flame that breaks everything down to single atoms. The manufacturer of the plasma furnace (it's in this week's links) says the syngas can be burned to generate more power than the furnace uses, making it self-sufficient. The Days go much further in their claims, but then they want to make the BIG BUCKS. They say the furnace can be optimized to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide.
Moreover there are other downstream apps for byproducts. Plasma destroys most molecules down to their elemental components except for the heaviest elements which become molten slag. However..
If you were to blow compressed air through a stream of this molten material, you'd end up with rock wool. Rock wool has the appearance of gray cotton candy. It''s light and wispy, and according to Dr. Circeo, it has the potential to revolutionize the plasma waste treatment industry. Rock wool is a very efficient insulation material, twice as effective as fiberglass. It's also lighter than water, but very absorbent. Because of this, it could potentially be used to help contain and clean oil spills in the ocean. Cleanup crews could spread rock wool over and around an oil spill. The rock wool would float on the water while soaking up the oil, making collection a relatively easy process. Hydroponic growing systems can also use rock wool -- farmers can plant seeds in slabs or blocks of it.
Currently rock wool is produced by mining rocks, melting them down and then streaming the molten material onto spinning machines. The spinning machines fling strands of molten material in the air. Today, the price of rock wool is over a dollar a pound. Since rock wool would be a byproduct of the plasma gasification process, it could be sold for as little as 10 cents a pound. The price of insulation would decrease, efficiencies in energy-saving techniques would increase and plasma gasification plants would have another substantial source of income apart from selling electricity back to the grid.