Print 47 comment(s) - last by onelittleindia.. on Jan 20 at 10:40 AM

New generator is simple -- just park it in your company's parking lot, and start collecting trash to feed it.

Small startup IST's generator is hungry -- for your trash.  While some companies have turned to solar or wind power to cut their power budgets and green their campus, IST's solution is twofold: cut your waste disposal costs, while also producing green power and heat.

The generator, called the Green Energy Machine (GEM), takes up three parking spaces and can easily be placed in a lot.  The generator does require a slightly special diet.  Metal and glass have no energy content and thus IST encourages people not to put them in the generator, but rather recycle them.  However, food, cardboard, plastics, agricultural wastes, all can go in.

While a bit finicky, the generator is definitely green.  It uses gasification, which releases less carbon emissions and other airborne emissions than combustion.  Gasification is a popular target among a number of alternative energy startups who hope to use it to create power from biomass, what IST has ultimately achieved with the GEM.

The generator first shreds the trash and turns it into pellets.  It then feeds the pellets to a gasifier which produces synthetic gas, primarily composed of hydrogen and carbon monoxide.  The syn gas is then burned in a natural-gas microturbine, which IST says is the most efficient.

Stu Haber, president and chief executive of Waltham, Mass.-based IST, described to CNET News, "Normally, when we tell people what we're doing, they say, 'You can do that? I had no idea that was possible."

The machine can convert 95 percent of up to three tons of waste daily into green energy.  The remaining 5 percent is converted to ash, which can be safely disposed of.  IST estimates that some business's waste collection bills are as high as $200,000 a year, so a GEM may show a good return of interest, purely from the cuts in collection fees.  With three tons of trash daily, the generator can produce a good deal of heat and electricity for a 200,000 square-foot building holding about 500 people, the company's target-size for the units' locations.

IST is aiming for a modest start, hoping to sell 5 to 10 units this year.  Mr. Haber states, "The first GEM will be the hardest one to sell."

While companies largely rely on state grants or tax incentives to provide the financial motivation for new installations, Mr. Haber believes the GEM is viable with no government support.  Yielding 120 kW and twice that amount in heat a day, from 3 tons of trash, the generator can save a lot of money.

The GEM costs $850,000, but that investment will be returned in 3 to 4 years, the company believes.  However, to soften the cost of adopting the solution, it is providing leasing options for those interested.  And while, IST says that it really doesn't need it to be viable, it notes that there’s a 10 percent federal tax credit for biomass alternative energy, which applies.  All the factors add up to a promising outlook for businesses considering the GEM, says Mr. Haber.  He states, "Everybody loves the fact that they're helping the environment, but because we're talking to businesspeople, I have to assume that they're interested because of the very quick payback."

IST is not without competitors in the burgeoning field, though.  The U.S. Army is testing trash-fueled generators in Iraq, while being slightly disappointed of the results of its own design.  Ze-Gen, based in Boston, Mass., is looking to implement a similar gasification process to IST, but to do it through a collection scheme and centralized plant.  The key tradeoff here would be the increases in efficiency of a larger generator, versus the losses in power transmission. 

Other companies like Oregon's InEnTech are looking to plasmification to produce the most synthetic gas possible.  And still others like Coskata are looking to feed the output to microbes to create cellulosic ethanol.  However, in terms of a purely biomass solution IST appears to be the first hitting the general market.

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One way to reduce corporate waste
By Jansen on 1/19/2009 11:08:40 AM , Rating: 4
Most of us who have worked in a corporate environment know how badly most companies do of recycling, if they even bother at all. Composting is virtually non-existent.

If we can use this for biomass while still recycling the easy stuff like cardboard, glass, and aluminum, then this looks viable.

I wonder if there is any filtration of waste gas?

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By FITCamaro on 1/19/2009 11:18:53 AM , Rating: 5
I think it would make sense for a business to use these. It would offset their power costs at no additional cost for fuel given the fact that employees throw out tons of paper and what not in a single day. And if there's one thing you can always count on, its trash.

Really we should start setting these up near land fills. Think of how much trash we could convert into energy while reducing the size of our landfills. All those used baby diapers are a fuel goldmine. :)

By Bateluer on 1/19/2009 11:36:19 AM , Rating: 3
That actually sounds like a good idea, placing these GEMs near landfills.

I don't know how practical playing a device like this in a downtown parking lot would be. How noisy is it? Parking spaces are at a premium in many down town areas, and most is in parking garages. Whats the exhaust like? I'm assuming that putting it in the basement of a parking garage would create a toxic soup of exhaust gases in that basement?

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By Motoman on 1/19/2009 11:44:14 AM , Rating: 3
I like this too, although I'm waffling a bit on the use of paper...I think it may be better to recycle paper and paper products.

But baby diapers and food waste...go for it.

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By Murloc on 1/20/2009 6:39:32 AM , Rating: 2
in my opinion paper and PET should be recycled, but you can throw the rest on this machine.
If toxic gas is a problem then it's still useful for green waste, like bushes, grass etc.

By masher2 on 1/20/2009 8:24:44 AM , Rating: 2
> "in my opinion paper and PET should be recycled"

Burning paper, then spreading the ashes on the ground to fertilize new tree growth is probably the 'greenest' method we have of recycling. The amount of chemicals used and pollution generated to directly recycle used paper is, by some accounts, substantially higher than that from making virgin paper.

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By rcr on 1/19/2009 12:08:54 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think that a place near the landfill sites would be good, because the bigger part that is produced is heat. So there would be big losses to transport it.

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By ebakke on 1/19/2009 1:11:41 PM , Rating: 2
Heat some water, and run a steam turbine. Even if the heat is wasted completely, you're still getting 120kW / 3 tons of trash that would otherwise be sitting in a landfill.

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By Hare on 1/19/2009 4:31:54 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know how common it is but at least here landfills gather gas (mostly GH4, methane) from the trashpiles using gas "wells/pumps". A small landfill can extract about 30 000 MWh. That's quite a lot.

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By Ringold on 1/19/2009 3:41:05 PM , Rating: 2
Really we should start setting these up near land fills.

I've always thought the efficiency loss in everyone maintaining their own cute little power supplies was a little silly -- crazed mercantilism, except on a building by building basis instead of national. (But thats environmentalism for you)

So I agree. If these things really make economic sense, make some big ones, park it next to landfill, and light 'er up. Waste management companies could become small utility companies, or perhaps partner up with local ones. Let businesses specialize in the industries they're already engaged in, and let trash and energy companies continue to focus on trash and energy, and economies of scale are preserved.

I somehow have a sad suspicion however that if someone had a million bucks and a desire to buy one of these, park it next to a landfill and start producing electricity, the government and environmental red tape he'd have to go through might be slightly ridiculous, but I would hope not.

By cornelius785 on 1/19/2009 4:05:39 PM , Rating: 2
I had a similar idea of why not take trash from the land fills and make them slowly disappear over time. Then I remembered that someone will find a way to stop that from happening, probably from supposed environmental concerns.

I suppose not enough is known of how well it can handle various hazardous materials from who know what that has been thrown out over the years. There is also the bit of how well it can handle little bits of metal and glass that sneak through the screening process.

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By Keeir on 1/19/2009 4:06:51 PM , Rating: 2
Some of what makes this economical however is that most companies have to pay between 30-40 dollars per ton for waste removal, which can run as high as 60-100 depending on location and reliability factors. This system would save (if all 3 tons are converted daily) on the order of 36,000 dollars a year and maybe for some businesses up to 100,000 dollars a year.

Furthermore, the businesses buying the power and heat would be saving the retail costs of the electricity/heat. If you were producing such at a landfill location, I imagine it would be more wholesale prices for the power... probably 70% or less what the localized business would be saving.

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By bfonnes on 1/20/2009 1:12:18 AM , Rating: 2

You'd need to many of them... Better to use one of the above at a landfill

By bfonnes on 1/20/2009 1:15:14 AM , Rating: 2

Found the other one I like... Anyone ever heard of the waste-to-energy incinerator in SimCity? Come on! Don't neglect your video games now. :) Next comes nuclear fusion ;)

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By jaericho on 1/19/2009 11:53:42 AM , Rating: 2
It sounds like a good idea, but I am curious as to how well the system scales? I would imagine it could scale up quite easily, but can it be scaled down for smaller buildings?

By Suntan on 1/19/2009 12:57:47 PM , Rating: 2
but can it be scaled down for smaller buildings?

Not really. If you look at the picture, that box at the front with the bevelled lower edges is the micro turbine generator. They've tried to make it smaller, for applications where less power is needed, but the efficiency goes right out the window. At its heart, the actual turbine is only about 5 or 6 inches in diameter.

The generator unit (traditionally run off of natural gas/LP) is usually marketed to hospitals, etc. where backup power is a top priority and the relatively unreliable operation of multiple diesel generators is not good enough.


RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By Nik00117 on 1/19/2009 4:33:58 PM , Rating: 2
It wouldn't be that hard to divide glass and metal up. Just have a sign that says "No Glass, No Metal Everything else goes!"

I mean honsetly I work in an office and our trash cans get full quickly, few little of it being glass or metal.

Really the big initial savings comes off not paying for garagabe disposal or less of it.

Secondly your hitting this by reducing the cost for electricy.

Let's assume a large corp spends 200 grand a year on power and 200 grand on waste (this is completely made up numbers)

Ok this unit cost 850k right?

So you completely elimate your use of waste and therefore save 200 grand.

Now you also reduce your power cost by 75 grand.

This is a net savings of 275 grand a year.

That means with in 3-4 years it'll turn a profit.

By FITCamaro on 1/19/2009 7:08:21 PM , Rating: 2
Actually in order to meet ISO, government contractors are already required to recycle. We can fail an audit for a plastic or glass bottle being in someone's trash can.

RE: One way to reduce corporate waste
By arazok on 1/19/2009 5:43:45 PM , Rating: 2
The warehouse had aluminum walls, and an aluminum roof with a one inch layer of tar over it. My office has a brick exterior, possibly with some insulation, but the roof is aluminum, with 1-2 inches of tar. It’s drafty as hell, and half of the cubicles have a space heater under them.

I’ve always found it funny that the government will hand me subsidies to add insulation in my attic, but virtually every commercial/industrial unit out there just blows energy straight out the roof and nobody cares.

Until my company decides to spend a few thousand bucks insulating the roof, I can’t see them spending $800,000 on one of these.

By arazok on 1/19/2009 9:44:29 PM , Rating: 2
hmmm. Mising the fisrt paragraph of that post...

And if you're burning paper and paper products...
By Doormat on 1/19/2009 12:32:07 PM , Rating: 2
You're not adding CO2 to the environment. All the carbon that is released was already in the environment, absorbed by the tree when it was alive.

Any CO2 added to the environment during processing was going to happen anyways, so at least you're mitigating dirty (coal) power with biomass-based power production.

By Suntan on 1/19/2009 12:47:01 PM , Rating: 3
Buzz, sorry. If you dump carbon based trash in a landfill, it sits in the landfill. If you burn it, it goes up into the air as CO2 or other gas mixtures. The proposed problem is with greenhouse gases in the air, not the total amount of carbon on the planet.


By bobsmith1492 on 1/19/2009 12:52:54 PM , Rating: 2
But if you grow a tree, make paper, burn paper, the net effect is zero.

If you burn coal, the net effect is positive; if you grow a tree, make paper, dump paper in a landfill the net effect is negative but a reduction in landfill mass is usually a good thing since it's tough to build new ones and they only fill up.

So, this device is a decent link in the raw-material food chain.

By Suntan on 1/19/2009 1:03:22 PM , Rating: 3
If you burn coal, the net effect is positive;

Bruning coal is no more + or - than the tree. The carbon in that coal was just taken out of the air much further back in time. At the end of the day, the process that is more efficeint is the process that will release less into the atmosphere.

As for landfills filling up, so what? I'm pretty sure all the stuff we put into landfills today came from the ground at one point or another, or have those NASA guys been throwing away those old moon rocks they brought back?


By masher2 on 1/19/2009 2:45:20 PM , Rating: 2
I see the old "landfills filling up" chestnut persists despite reality. A piece of paper in a landfill will decay just as will a branch falling off a tree. And both do no more than return to the ground from whence they came.

The real issue here is resource savings, if any. These devices cost $850K. Assuming a reasonable profit, that's at least $500K in resources that go into producing them, plus more to run and maintain them. Is that worth the small amount of coal they offset?

My guess would be no-- not from direct energy savings. But the indirect savings of having to haul less trash around in diesel-burning trucks will probably make up the difference...if the company is honest in their 3-4 year payback period.

By Cerberus90 on 1/19/2009 2:39:20 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, it will release alot of gas.

Mainly methane as it decomposes.

Thats why every landfill I've ever seen has exhaust pipes that run from inside the landfill to the surface to let out these gases to stop any dangerous build up.

This seems like an excellent idea, I'm sure it would be more environmentally friendly than using power generated from a pwoer station, as there won't be as large a losss in transmission, and the fuel is right there, no transportation, no mining etc.

By Schrag4 on 1/19/2009 1:03:22 PM , Rating: 3
Well, strictly speaking, all the CO2 that gets released when you burn coal or oil was "already in the environment, absorbed by the tree when it was alive" as well. Where do you think coal and oil came from?

By Doormat on 1/19/2009 2:16:00 PM , Rating: 2
Coal/oil-based carbon was sequestered 65M years ago, versus the 10-100 years the tree has been alive.

By Schrag4 on 1/19/2009 3:37:55 PM , Rating: 3
So, you're admitting that all that CO2 used to be atmosphere (and that ultimately, there's really no such thing as a net CO2 positive). Again, what's your point?

By sinful on 1/20/2009 3:25:59 AM , Rating: 1
So, you're admitting that all that CO2 used to be atmosphere (and that ultimately, there's really no such thing as a net CO2 positive). Again, what's your point?

And before that, the world was barren and completely inhospitable, with the same C02 levels. Zero life, same C02 levels.
So, what's your point?

By Schrag4 on 1/20/2009 9:04:51 AM , Rating: 3
I don't think the planet was "barren and completely inhospitable" when the carbon in coal and oil was being sequestered. Do you have some data to back that claim up?

I believe that the period of time cited by Doormat (65M years ago) is considered by many to be near the end of the 'Age of the Dinosaurs.' "Zero life?"

By masher2 on 1/20/2009 10:08:31 AM , Rating: 3
During the Devonian, 400-odd million years ago, CO2 levels ranged from 3-4,000 ppm (10X current levels). It was also one of the most diverse and abundant periods of life on the planet, the period in which most life as we know it evolved in fact.

Mr. Fusion
By Kefner on 1/19/2009 11:37:48 AM , Rating: 3
Why no pic of Mr Fusion and Doc Brown LOL, would of been the perfect accompanying pic!

RE: Mr. Fusion
By nycromes on 1/19/2009 1:13:49 PM , Rating: 2
My thoughts exactly

RE: Mr. Fusion
By Kefner on 1/20/2009 2:59:39 AM , Rating: 2
By slashbinslashbash on 1/19/2009 1:18:51 PM , Rating: 2
Ok, so this thing produces lots of energy + lots of heat. That heat production is great for wintertime, but what about when it's hot outside? Will the unit need lots of cooling to dump that extra heat?

By FishTankX on 1/20/2009 2:25:29 AM , Rating: 2
Use a rankine bottoming cycle. Have the exhaust from the mini turbine drive a steam boiler.

Or just use the heat to heat up the trash again. Makes it easier to burn.

Absorption Cycle Chiller
By powervolume on 1/19/2009 5:10:48 PM , Rating: 2
Systems that use ammonia can reach a COP of 1 to 1.2. Although far worse on a COP basis than a vapor compression based air conditioner (i.e. what you have in your home or car more than likely), the vapor compression system is using electricity that includes inefficiencies to generate from heat.

Anyway, you could use the waste heat in the winter and an absorption cycle based chiller in the summer. Although technically feasible, I no idea whether this would be cost effective since you would need the normal chillers anyway.

RE: Absorption Cycle Chiller
By Suntan on 1/20/2009 10:22:15 AM , Rating: 2
As a practical matter, you wouldn’t get enough quality heat from the output of that turbine to efficiently run an absorption based cooling system. You could add a separate chiller and just use the “fuel” produced in the waste decomposition stage to run the absorption cooler directly and cut out the power generator, the downside is that you no longer get the power generated by the turbine, and you have to pay for a chiller, in addition to the cost of this system.

Realistically, you would be best off using the power generated to run your traditional vapor compression AC system that is already on the roof.


Massive market for a working system
By psychobriggsy on 1/20/2009 7:49:40 AM , Rating: 2
This looks like a brilliant idea for any application that requires the unit to be moved between locations. I also expect that you could strip out the container and install it inside a building or basement should that be desired. The makers should look to Europe which has stringent recycling targets - the fact that this can take plastics and all types of biomass and not break with glass and metals removes contamination checks/waste.

Also, can we just feed the effluent from music festival toilets into these? It might keep the toilets empty!

I also imagine you could install the first stage (shredder, dryer, pelletiser) and the power generating stage in different locations, moving the pellets between them, or generating pellets during the day at twice the rate, and consuming them 24/7. Indeed there might be a market for mere biomass pellets. I wonder which stage is the main expense in the system though ... presumably the gasification (pellet baking) machine?

By onelittleindian on 1/20/2009 10:40:12 AM , Rating: 2
Also, can we just feed the effluent from music festival toilets into these?
I'm sure that would generate an incredible stink. You have to design in all sorts of waste gas capture to get a sewage plant to not smell to high heaven.

Yes, but can it...
By Swimm on 1/19/2009 11:08:00 AM , Rating: 2
...generate the 1.21 jigowatts required to activate the flux capacitor?

I thought not.

Until then, I'm sticking with Mr. Fusion.

Promising execution
By VoodooChicken on 1/19/2009 11:12:24 AM , Rating: 2
I can see these used in municipalities, or even distributed through some cities. I work for the city across the street from where I live, and my resident town doesn't even have recycling.

Re: landfills
By bobsmith1492 on 1/19/2009 12:50:00 PM , Rating: 2
There are better options than this for large-scale waste disposal. Grand Rapids has an incinerator that takes anything and burns it with massive filtration so the output is essentially steam and C02. It generates electricity and steam to heat buildings downtown.

This device looks interesting on a small-scale but there are large-scale options already in place. I don't know how the efficiency would compare but typically power generation is more efficient in a bigger plant.

Places with a Cafeteria.
By snownpaint on 1/19/2009 1:57:29 PM , Rating: 2
This would be a good thing for places that have a cafeteria, like hospitals and larger schools and campuses. First go paper: plates, cups, bowls, (knife, fork and spoon would be hard)
(get rid of plastic, recycled or not, it is just bad stuff. (read up on recycle plastic plants, and the plastic companies and plants.. I've seen it first hand, what a mess))
Second, offer everything in glass or metal cans, beside the food and dishes..
All the Paper and food goes into the trash and out to the machine, all the glass and metal go to the recycling cans.

Powers the building, they cut waste (which is $$$ for hospitals), and they can be claim to be green..
my 2 cents

By Heyga4Huk on 1/20/2009 6:18:02 AM , Rating: 2
The machine can convert 95 percent of up to three tons of waste daily into green energy. The remaining 5 percent is converted to ash, which can be safely disposed of.

Finally a portable, radiation-free nuclear reactor! Cold fusion I presume?

Sell it up North
By 7Enigma on 1/20/2009 7:31:57 AM , Rating: 2
I think this particular product clearly makes sense in the much colder regions of the US and more importantly Canada. The massive benefit is the combination of the trash reduction, power consumption, and heat production. Without all 3 the ROI is probably not nearly as quick. A place like Ca/Tx will probably not make sense but more northern climates can probably have this as a viable alternative.

I also think the beauty of this equipment is its relatively small size and (seemingly) straight forward operation. Adding in a boiler unit or other method of gaining additional power from the heat generated is going to lessen the novelty and increase maintenance costs (complexity).

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