Energy from Pollution

September 24, 2009  |  Comments Off on Energy from Pollution  |  by admin  |  News

Researchers at the Center for Biotechnology at The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University are developing an amazing new technology which will potentially have the ability to extract electricity from pollution and organic waste products. They hope their biological fuel cells will help slow global warming by cleaning excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. At the same time this new technology would help deal with rising populations and resultant waste/pollution problems. This process would also eliminate the need to use fossil fuels as an energy source. Currently, fuel cell energy requires heat and a fuel source in order to produce energy.

Bruce Rittmann, Director of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, and his team of researchers are developing microbial fuel cells (MFC) that can oxidize organic pollutants and create electricity from pollution. “We have to tremendously reduce our use of fossil fuels,” said Rittmann at his lab at the Biodesign Institute. “Someday we will run out of fossil fuels and perhaps more importantly, someday the environmental impact these fuels will catch up with us. Global warming is a real threat, but fossil fuel combustion also causes local pollution. We need to stop burning things as much as possible.”

Rittmann says the advantage of the microbial fuel cells is they take renewable organic materials and capture the energy value within them. “I call it ‘energy within goup’,” explained Rittmann. “There are plenty of organic materials, especially waste materials, around that have energy value. The problem is the energy is in an inconvenient form. There are piles of energy we can’t use. We need to convert it into a form of energy we can deal with, something society can use as a reliable energy source.”

Rittmann says microorganisms can convert organic material into one of three energy sources: methane, hydrogen, or electricity. “Using the microbial fuel cell we can get energy value out of organic stuff and convert it into electricity,” he said.

The microbial fuel cell is powered by bacteria growing as a biofilm on an conductive solid surface serving as an electrode in a bath of organic waste. The microorganisms oxidize the organic pollutants – for example pig manure – “transferring the electrons to the electrode, into an electrical circuit, and eventually to oxygen at the cathoode.” The current of electrons flowing through circuit are electrical energy, explains Rittmann. “The microbial fuel cell takes advantage of the microbes’ ability to oxidize almost anything that is organic,” he added.

Rittmann says the microbial fuel cell offers several advantages over conventional hydrogen-based fuel cells. “Most fuel cells are currently limited to using just hydrogen derived from fossil fuel as its energy source.

This isn’t solving the full problem since we’re still using fossil fuels to generate the hydrogen,” said Rittmann. “Microbial fuel cell can solve the entire problem, converting organic waste directly into energy. Further, because biological fuel cells operate at room temperature there is no need to waste energy on heating or use expensive catalysts like platinum. Finally since there’s no combustion involved, biological fuel cells produce no pollution – in fact they actually help reduce pollution since organic pollution is their fuel source”

Rittmann says commercialization is still some time away and more research is needed to scale the technology for industrial applications. Nevertheless, he says that have a lot of potential. “Microbial fuel cells are all natural. They operate at natural temperatures using simple naturally occurring microorganisms to convert waste into energy. It’s the ultimate sustainable energy system.”

Waste to Energy needed in Pakistan

September 24, 2008  |  Comments Off on Waste to Energy needed in Pakistan  |  by admin  |  News

Growing urbanisation and changes in the pattern of life, give rise to generation of increasing quantities of wastes and it’s now becoming another threat to our already degraded environment. However, in recent years, waste-to-energy technologies have been developed to produce clean energy through the combustion of municipal solid waste in specially designed power plants equipped with the most modern pollution control equipment to clean emissions. Yet, solid waste management practices differ for developed and developing nations. In developing countries like Pakistan, institutions charged with the responsibility to make decisions on solid waste management, operate in the enormous information, policy and strategy vacuum and lack therefore the ability to address this looming environmental disaster.

The perfect ‘case study’ of information gap in selection of appropriate methodology to dispose municipal waste exhibited by the apex civic authority of Pakistan is when the capital development authority has finally decided to solve the ever-increasing volume of municipal waste by landfill in groundwater recharge area. While in developed countries, landfills are now bracketed as ‘obsolete’ and ‘mines of the future’ after observing several problems like pollution and contamination of groundwater by leachate and residual soil contamination after landfill closure and simple nuisance problems. This is the very reason why in the United States sanitary landfill techniques has steadily decreased from 8,000 in 1988 to 1,767 in 2002. Extensively focusing on turning waste to energy, municipal authorities in USA have realised the contribution of waste to an increasing electricity shortage.

Today in America, 2500 MW are solely generated by the waste-to-energy plants. Many other countries in the world, Sweden, Japan included, have applied this technology since the last 20 years. In the sub continent, India installed three projects to produce electricity from waste with a total capacity of 17.6 MW. Although these ‘made in India’ power plants are generating electricity by direct incineration, causing pollution and must be upgraded by sophisticated monitoring systems to check pollution. These examples are enough to establish that CDA’s ignorance of modern technologies is surely not simply a lack of ‘access to information’, but questions the professional capabilities of the planners within its corridors.

Pakistan SatelliteThe site selected for the landfill project is at Kuri, an ancient city of Potwar and its aerial distance is hardly five kilometres from sector G-5, known as the nucleus of Islamabad. Though, in July 2003, the same site was considered for a landfill project but UNDP out rightly rejected and warned that environmental cost would be considerable, besides air pollution, contamination of groundwater if Kuri was selected as a landfill project. JICA in 1988 also compiled a detail investigation report, which established that the area is the recharge zone of the aquifer catering for more than 50 per cent of the twin cities’ drinking demand. Based on these serious environmental constraints, as its location is up a slope and within the flood plain of Gumrah River, the recharge-basin of the twin cities aquifer, the site was rejected. Recent floods substantiated the finding of all the reports, as the site is definitely within the flood plains of the Gumrah River and would need to be protected on a priority basis, especially as water shortages is now a permanent problem of the twin cities.

Whoever selected and approved the site for the ‘disaster of the future’, showed ignorance of the above reports and absolute ignorance of the adverse environmental impacts this project would create. Is this ignorance simply unawareness of the planners or is it complete apathy towards anything old, which rejects that Kuri is recorded as an ancient city of the Potowar Region. As CDA is constantly focusing on developing tourist attractions, why not preserve this historical area? Aware of the unprofessional management at CDA’s varied directorates one anticipates leachates from the landfills, polluting the amazingly still clean groundwater table, while the wind will carry waves of leaking gases towards the G-5 Sector, farther adding to the prevalent health hazards of the capital.

Pakistani Experts‘Access to clean water’ has been given the ‘top priority’ flag by the president. Selecting a site along the Gumrah River, known to recharge the groundwater along its winding course through Chak Shehzad and Kanna shows the warped priorities of the planning commission that approves projects, the ministry of interior responsible for CDA affairs and the CDA itself. Had CDA only followed the minutest details provided in the Federal Capital Commission Reports of 1960 by the earlier planners of the capital city, Islamabad today would have been a model for the rest of Pakistan.

The CDA ignored the most recent seismic zoning report of the region too. According to EPA US regulations, duly adopted by Pakistan’s EPA, there should be no significant seismic risk within identified landfill sites. Kuri is within a highly sensitive earthquake zone, according to new seismic zoning maps prepared after the earthquake 2005. An earthquake having a magnitude of 4.2 was recorded on July 7, 1989 and its epicentre was at a distance of 10 kilometres from Kuri.

Had the spread of this infectious disease the ‘vacuum of information’ been contained in time, CDA would surely have been able to diagnose that the estimated cost of two billion rupees for the landfill site, would have sufficed for setting up an ‘energy-to-waste’ plant in the city. With load-shedding a permanent crisis in Pakistan, adding some extra megawatts through waste-to-energy could have solved many ills in the rapidly growing energy needs.

A vacuum of information has not allowed the CDA to communicate either with the alternate energy development board, established by the federal government in 2003. This board was given the mandate to solve the energy crisis that is facing this country through renewable technologies. Although advertisements in the printed media asked for feasibility studies of ‘waste-to-energy’ units for ten cities of the country, the twin cities were ignored. Had mutual interactions been part of the government systems, the funds available to the CDA for the ill-fated sanitary landfill, and the technical know-how of alternate energy development board (AEDB), Islamabad could have prided itself of being the first ever waste-to-energy unit in the country today.

The decision to construct a landfill project at extremely sensitive areas need not only to be reviewed but also need to empower the AEDB to generate electricity from waste to cope with the energy demand in the lines of international environmental commitments avoiding violation of the Kyoto Protocol and Stockholm Convention. Now decision-makers have to choose whether to allow the CDA to go ahead with the landfill project, to dump waste for adding more pollution and contamination of groundwater or to allow production of environment friendly energy.


Pollution from Waste-to-Energy Incinerators

September 24, 2008  |  Comments Off on Pollution from Waste-to-Energy Incinerators  |  by admin  |  News

The environmental impact of waste-to-energy technology outweighs the benefits when it comes to a proposed garbage incinerator in Greater Vancouver, according to a leading pollution researcher. The new trash incinerator would be 80 per cent larger than the existing garbage burning facility in Burnaby. The proposal by Montenay Inc. is just one of 23 now being considered by the GVRD as weighs what to do with the 500,000 tonnes of waste that now goes to its soon-to-close Cache Creek regional landfill. Dr. Michael Easton argues building a second, much bigger version of the Burnaby incinerator that Montenay already runs is a bad idea.

“The Burnaby incinerator is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he said. “It needs to be significantly upgraded.”

Easton, a Vancouver consultant specializing in genetics and ecosystem toxicology, says the problem isn’t the waste-to-energy plant’s air emissions -which are well within regulated limits.

What he doesn’t like is that it’s a high-temperature one-stage process that results in metals slagging together and the resulting ash coming out laden with toxic contaminants.

“Twenty per cent of the material that goes in there comes out as ash, which has to be dumped at a landfill,” he said.

“That stuff is very toxic. It should not be dumped in a municipal landfill – period.”

Montenay is one of several proponents who want to build incinerators for the GVRD either in the Lower Mainland or on Vancouver Island.

All offer a closer-to-home disposal alternative to either the GVRD’s original plan to build a new regional landfill at its Ashcroft ranch lands, or other proponents who would ship the waste to landfills in the U.S., Alberta or northeastern B.C.

Montenay’s proposed 500,000-tonne incinerator would be located within the GVRD on a major waterway for easy shipping of waste, the company’s proposal indicates.

It would be a public-private partnership -the GVRD would pay $375 million to own it, and the company would design, build and run it.

The 45-megawatt generator would produce around $24 million worth of electricity per year, plus an estimated $1 million from metal recovery.

The idea has already sparked fears in Abbotsford, where Coun. Patricia Ross argues it will further pollute the Fraser Valley, spewing twice as much smog-producing nitrogen oxides as would have come from the now-defeated Sumas Energy 2 power plant.

“We live in a confined air shed and we don’t have very good air flow,” Ross said. “Unfortunately, the pollution from Vancouver blows right up the Fraser Valley and it gets trapped here.”

She predicts people will be strongly opposed to building an incinerator anywhere in the Lower Mainland.

But Montenay spokesman Ron Richter said the facility will actually help the air quality of the Fraser Valley because garbage will no longer have to be trucked to Cache Creek.

This is a cost-effective and “environmentally beneficial solution to managing waste,” he said.

According to company estimates, the incinerator would result in a reduction of 480,000 tons of carbon dioxide (a global greenhouse gas) a year.

The GVRD still must choose an independent evaluator and officials say it will be several more weeks before the nearly two dozen proposals are winnowed down to a short list.

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San Francisco Greasecycle Program

May 28, 2008  |  Comments Off on San Francisco Greasecycle Program  |  by admin  |  News

For the past several months the San Francisco Public Utility Commission (SFPUC) has begun picking up used cooking oil from restaurants and businesses for free in an effort to find fuel alternatives for its municipal fleet. The city hopes to expand the grease recycling program (called SFGreasecycle) to include small-scale household pickups and eventually power all city vehicles on biodiesel, including public buses and fire trucks. The oil is picked from local restaurants by SFPUC trucks, dropped off at a transfer station, filtered, transferred into a multi storage tank settling system, then decanted for three days. The oil is then sold to a biodiesel plant using bulk transport tractor-trailer pickups.

“Even a little grease causes problems. Fats, oils, and grease (FOG) down kitchen drains dramatically impact the flow and performance of our combined sewer system. Many residents generate only a bit of used cooking oil. But the cumulative effect from a lot of homes contributes to clogging sewers. Please don’t pour ANY used oil down the drain. Instead, collect it in a container and throw it in the trash.”


Harvesting Hydrogen from Farm Waste

January 24, 2008  |  Comments Off on Harvesting Hydrogen from Farm Waste  |  by admin  |  News

The National Research Council of Canada’s Biotechnology Research Institute has begun research and development of a process that will extract hydrogen from organic waste materials like fermentable feedstock and manure. The materials are processed to hydrogen by dark and photofermentation. The goal is to “come up with biosystems that could be grouped into a multiple-stage process to capture almost all the hydrogen from the primary feedstock”. One dairy farm in Ontario is already producing power from manure using an anaerobic digester.