Medical and pharmaceutical waste comes from hospitals, doctors/dentists offices, skilled & unskilled nursing care, group practices, specialized out-patient services and veterinarians. Examples of medical waste are: soiled or blood soaked bandages, culture dishes and other glassware, discarded surgical gloves, and instruments (e.g. scalpels), needles, cultures, stocks, swabs used to inoculate cultures, removed body organs and lancets used to draw blood samples.
For medical waste generators (medium and large hospitals/health clinics or medical waste collectors), the current trend is clearly in the direction of greater efficiency in sorting. The pressure for cost containment has grown in the health care industry and the price for medical waste treatment and disposal has increased. It has been estimated that hospitals and long-term care (LTC) facilities in the US waste generate at least 125 million pounds of pharmaceuticals annually. Our research reflects that medical waste treatment systems are expected to experience high growth due to a growing and aging population, a rising incidence of chronic disease, and new requirements for disposal in community and home settings.
PEAT’s PTDR plasma-arc plasma gasification system in Sacramento, CA is currently permitted for sanitized medical waste treatment, among other waste streams. The PTDR plasma-arc plasma gasification technology has received numerous regulatory approvals throughout the globe, including the California Department of Public Health, which certified the technology as an alternative to incineration for medical waste treatment.
Since October 2011, PEAT has been performing small medical waste treatment campaigns. Most recently in August, PEAT hosted potential clients from Utah to witness a medical waste treatment campaign on waste supplied from the San Jose area.
PEAT’s plasma-arc plasma gasification system consists of DC-powered plasma-arc graphite electrodes rather than plasma torches, typically marketed by other companies. There are a number of benefits associated with using DC-powered plasma-arc electrodes.
Minimization of capital costs as plasma-arc graphite electrodes generate plasma-arcs directly with exposed anodes and cathodes without requiring an independent torch. Plasma torches are expensive and increase the capital costs associated with overall systems.
Minimization of operational costs as plasma-arc graphite electrodes require no water cooling or any externally-supplied carrier gas (i.e. argon or nitrogen). This increases the electrical to thermal conversion rates (typically seen around 85-90% in PTDR plasma-arc plasma gasification systems).
Plasma torches require water cooling, carrier gases and have lower efficiencies as their power output can be as low as 50% of the power input for small torches. This means that one half of the electricity of the plasma torch is dissipated to the cooling water or efficiency of the plasma-arc power supply.
The composition of the end-products varies with the composition of the waste being processed in a PTDR plasma-arc plasma gasification system. For example, processing medical waste in PEAT’s plasma gasification system, with a relatively high percentage of paper and plastic or pharmaceutical manufacturing waste with high levels of carbon-based constituents would produce meaningful levels of syngas, and a lesser amount of recoverable metal and glass product. Conversely, processing ash from an incinerator via plasma-arc would produce lower amounts of syngas and relatively more vitrified product (containing metal oxides) and potentially recovered metal alloys.
Plasma can be described as an electrically-charged gas where a specific amount of energy is added to separate the molecules into a collection of ions, electrons and charge-neutral gas molecules. Plasma indicates a gas volume with sufficient energy supplied (electromagnetic, electric and/or thermal) so that electrons that normally exist in specific numbers and at distinct energy level orbiting around the nucleus are freed from their orbital bonds. This plasma, with its constituents of individual molecules and electrons acts as a conductor of electricity, the resistance of which converts electrical energy to heat.
Plasma-arc systems have been widely used for destruction of hazardous wastes. This extreme heat from the plasma-arc breaks down wastes, forming synthesis gas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide) and a rock-like solid byproduct called slag. The significant difference between pure plasma-arc plasma gasification systems (like PTDR systems) and other thermal waste processing technologies is that the heat required for waste degradation is generated by the plasma-arc itself and not via combustion of all or part of the waste.
PTDR plasma-gasification systems derive its energy from graphite plasma-arc electrodes thus wastes with little or no calorific value can be effectively and efficiently treated. Graphite plasma-arc electrodes are more effective than plasma-arc torches (typically marketed by other plasma-based companies) in that they reduce capital costs versus plasma-arc torches and have significantly higher electric-to-thermal energy conversion efficiencies (90-95% vs. 65-70%) thereby reducing operational costs when compared to plasma-arc torches
Plasma gasification is a phrase heard often when discussion plasma-arc treatment or waste-to-energy technologies, however this entry looks to give a closer look as to what plasma gasification is and its associated reactions. Plasma gasification is a thermal chemical conversion process designed to optimize the conversion of waste into the synthetic gas or (“syngas”). The chemical reactions take place under oxygen starved conditions. The ratio of oxygen molecules to carbon molecules can be less than one in a plasma gasification reactor (sometimes a stoichiometric amount of oxygen to achieve pyrolysis).
The following simplified chemical conversion formulas describe some of the thermo-chemical processes that are typically occurring in gasification.
Equation 1. C (fuel) + O2 –> CO2 + heat (exothermic)
Equation 2. C + H2O (steam) –> CO + H2 (endothermic)
Equation 3. C + CO2 –> 2CO (endothermic)
Equation 4. C + 2H2 –> CH4 (exothermic)
Equation 5. CO + H2O –> CO2 + H2 (exothermic)
Equation 6. CO + 3H2 –> CH4 + H2O (exothermic)
Some of the waste undergoes partial oxidation by precisely controlling the amount of oxygen fed into the plasma reactor (see first reaction above). The heat released in the above exothermic reactions provide additional thermal energy for the primary gasification reaction (endothermic formulas above) to proceed very rapidly.
At higher temperatures (around 3,600°F) the endothermic reactions are typically favored. Some plasma companies (not PEAT however) introduce supplementary fuels such as coal, petroleum coke or even other hot gases generated by their plasma torches (sometimes referred to as plasma-assisted gasification) to maintain the desired plasma gasification temperatures in the reactor.
The reducing atmosphere within the plasma gasification reactor avoids the formation of oxidized species such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx). Instead, sulfur and nitrogen (organic-derived) in the feedstock are primarily converted to hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and nitrogen. Finally, typical halogens in the feedstock are converted to inorganic acid halides (HCl, HF, etc.)