Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Sustainable Energy

Alternative to Incineration

Hot plasmas could dispose of toxic waste and produce hydrogen, without the harmful byproducts of combustion.

Incineration destroys most dangerous components of medical and other hazardous wastes, but even the hottest furnaces still produce nitrogen oxides, dioxins, and toxic ash. After years of industry efforts to develop a versatile noncombustion thermal alternative-one so hot that wastes are transformed into less harmful or even useful gases and glassy solids-a dual-heating system is proving commercially viable.

Developed by Integrated Environmental Technologies of Richland, WA, which is commercializing technology developed partly at MIT, the system recently hit a key milestone. Industrial-gas giant Praxair last fall decided to market the technology to the chemical industry to destroy toxic waste, and in the process create hydrogen. “It effectively eliminates off-site transfer and disposal, typically by incineration, of hazardous wastes,” says Gary Storms, commercial-development manager for Praxair in Danbury, CT.

The system combines two tightly controlled heating methods inside a cauldron. In the first, plasma generated by two or more graphite electrodes courses through a stream of incoming waste; in the second, waste is melted through electrical-resistive heating. The combined effect pushes temperatures to 10,000 C and creates a lavalike soup that gives off gases like hydrogen and carbon monoxide and eventually cools into chunks. Jeffrey Surma, president and CEO of Integrated Environmental Technologies, says the approach “has the ability to tune exactly where we want the input energy to go,” helping the system work for differing mixtures of waste. Nick Soelberg, a chemical engineer at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, calls it “a reasonable alternative to incineration.” Other companies including Startech Environmental of Wilton, CT, are also commercializing plasma systems; eventually, perhaps, the incineration era will burn out.

The AI revolution is here. Will you lead or follow?
Join us at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.