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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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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 (blog) 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 (blog) 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.

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