Skip to Content

Garbage Power

Plasma turns waste to ethanol.
March 1, 2007

Forget corn-derived biofuels. Think garbage. The process shown here uses lightning-like arcs of plasma to transform garbage and other waste into gases from which methanol and etha­nol can be made. Unlike conventional incineration, it doesn’t generate toxic pollutants, and it yields up to six times as much energy as it consumes. Since its fuel–garbage–would be brought to a landfill or incinerator anyway, the technique would avoid the extra energy costs associated with growing and processing corn. The technology, based on research at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, WA, is now being commercialized by Integrated Environmental Technologies (IET), also in Richland. There’s enough energy in U.S. munici­pal and other waste to replace as much as a quarter of the gasoline the country uses, says ­Daniel Cohn, cofounder of IET and senior research scientist at the MIT center. IET is in talks with a utility and several municipalities to construct the first such plants, says CEO Jeff Surma.

Multimedia

  • View the process of transforming garbage to waste.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting

With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.