‘Give us the dump’
AS fire rages at the Riverton City dump in St Catherine earlier this week, blanketing the Corporate Area and Portmore with smoke for yet another year, one entrepreneur is pressing the Government to take a look at his solution, a thermochemical conversion process waste-to-energy plant, that is more efficient than the gasification or incineration plants that are now under consideration.
“We can even reclaim the dump. We can actually harvest the dump that is there now and clean the soil. It’s the only system in the world that you can put existing landfill garbage into. You can’t do that with incineration or gasification systems and the waste comes out sterile,” Brian Yap Sam, chief executive officer of Green Concepts Jamaica, told the Jamaica Observer.
Yap Sam said the thermochemical conversion process plant “is a fairly new technology”.
“We are on average 35 per cent cheaper than either incineration or gasification systems.”
Thermochemical conversion processes in an enclosed autoclave, which, unlike incineration or gasification waste-to-energy plants, does not have a stack to release smoke in the atmosphere. All kinds of garbage can be burnt in the system.
“It doesn’t matter — tyres, batteries, plastics, styrofoam, organic garbage — everything goes in, and the only thing that gets released is synthetic gas which goes through a purification process in which it is cleaned.” Green Concepts said its synthetic gas comes out 99 per cent clean. The emissions are said to be 98 per cent clean.
“What we do is quite different from incineration or gasification. We actually use a modular type system that uses autoclaves. Each autoclave is good for about 12 tonnes of garbage per day. So, rather than having one large unit as you would have in the world of gasification or incineration, we are modular. Rather than having a tall building, we have a lower building with multiple units so we can go up to 5,000 tonnes a day if we wanted to by adding these autoclaves,” John Georgantopoulos, vice-president of Green Concepts International, which is based in Miami, told the Caribbean Business Report.
Georgantopoulos said because the system is modular, it can be expanded as needed unlike incineration plants or gasification plants, which require an entirely new plant to be built for expansion and which “can be cost prohibitive”.
“The other thing is that incineration doesn’t burn the garbage completely. They end up with about 35 per cent to 45 per cent of residual garbage that goes back to the landfill, and because it has been burnt, it goes back with lots of toxins and dioxins which causes you to have a hazardous waste,” Georgantopoulos adds.
The gasification process is much the same. With gasification, Georgantopoulos points out that garbage has to be separated and dried before it is to be used. Garbage for gasification plants must be organic meaning materials such as plastics and other recylables can’t go in.
“With gasification, 90 per cent of recyclables go back to the landfill,” he adds. On the other hand, the thermochemical conversion process waste-to-energy plant’s waste is carbon ash, which is otherwise called fly ash, which can be used to mix into cement or asphalt and everything that comes out is completely sterile.
The other thing is that these plants have to shutdown for three months every year, unlike thermochemical conversion plants which use individual lines of autoclaves.
“So if we shutdown one, the plant continues to operate with the other autoclaves.”
He pointed out that shutting down the plant entirely means it is not producing electricity for three months which will result in a garbage pile-up.
“In our case, we budget to have a 10 per cent larger than required plant which takes into consideration downtime 10 per cent of the time.”
Yap Sam said his attempts to introduce the technology to Jamaica to win approval to operate it as part of the country’s waste management project, while generating electricity for the grid, has been met with frustrations which he believes are unrelated to a technology he calls “a no-brainer” to use with its benefits and cheaper costs.
However, he said he has three private investors interested in the system. At Expo Jamaica recently, a fourth investor, Petrojam, showed interest in purchasing the fly ash waste from the thermochemical conversion process plant to mix into asphalt for road construction. Organic waste, which comes out as bio-char, can also be mixed into fertiliser to improve its efficiency by up to 400 per cent.
“So imagine the reduction in the importation of fertilisers because you are generating a huge part of the raw materials from waste leftover after burning garbage in our system to generate electricity.”
He said such as system could also benefit the operator in terms of revenues from carbon tax since it emits almost no greenhouse gases.
“Right now in the European Union it costs 95 euros per tonne for carbon tax. So you can work a deal out if you wanted to for five years for say 45 euros per tonne. On a 500 tonne a day system we are looking at just under 100,000 carbon credits for tax benefits per year. If you sold that at 40 euros, that’s 4 million euros each year,” Georgantopoulos said.