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.