February 19, 2007
An Illinois firm wants to destroy Indianapolis trash with a device more
fearsome than Marvin the Martian's ACME disintegration pistol.
Northbrook-based PEAT International Inc. would argue its 1,500-degree
"plasma arc" treatment device, in which "molecules are disassociated
into their basic elemental atomic constituents," is anything but Looney
PEAT, which already operates plasma plants to destroy solid waste in
Taiwan, confirms that it is looking at building a plant locally.
"We are still interested in the Indianapolis area. We're in
negotiations on a piece of land," said Daniel Ripes, a spokesman for
He declined to elaborate.
Such systems are already being developed for use on naval ships and
submarines as an environmentally friendly alternative to dumping large
amounts of trash overboard. Ripes said plasma-arc disposal plants
typically employ 25 to 30 people.
PEAT "is undergoing the initial phases of property acquisition, zoning
approval, and solid-waste siting approval for a facility [in
Indianapolis]. This facility would be the first commercial plasma waste
destruction facility in the United States and is scheduled to open
during the fourth quarter of 2007," wrote one of PEAT's consultants
last September, in a letter to the Indiana Department of Environmental
An IDEM spokeswoman said the agency is familiar with PEAT's interest in
Indianapolis but that the company had not yet filed a permit
PEAT's consultant has been testifying before the Indiana Solid Waste
Management Board, which is clarifying what types of new solid waste
processing technologies need to be permitted.
Plasma torches aren't a new concept. Back in the 1960s, NASA and the
Russian space agency used them to test the effectiveness of heat
shields that protect spacecraft re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.
In a nutshell, ionized gas that conducts electricity is passed between
electrodes, generating an intense electrical field. Temperatures can
reach 2,000 degrees.
Organic molecules break down, leaving gases such as hydrogen, methane
and carbon dioxide. Inorganic molecules wind up as a glassy slag that
can be used for pavement.
Proponents of plasma-arc waste processing claim there's virtually no
pollution from the process. Some argue that the verdict is still out.
The facilities can use large amounts of electricity to generate the
plasma torch. But the gas generated by the process can help such a
plant sustain itself, said Don E. Hawkins, former chairman and CEO of
Hawkins Industries Inc. Hawkins had hoped to have a plasma-arc disposal
system of his own up and running by 2001 on a 10-acre site in Pike
His 35,000-square-foot facility would have targeted potential customers
ranging from hospitals to drugmakers to waste haulers. It would have
used PEAT's technology to process up to 36 tons of waste per day.
Hawkins said he received a city air permit and zoning approval and a
state solid waste permit, and even won over a local homeowner's
But after spending $750,000 over several years of development, "I ended up going out of business."
The problem, he says, was that the technology was too green at the time to win over investors.
"We couldn't raise the $17 million to build it. ... Now that the
technology is more proven, I wouldn't have had the problems I had
before," he figures.
Last summer, PEAT officials contacted Hawkins and an associate on the
project, saying they wanted to explore Indianapolis again after setting
up plants in Asia. "Apparently, someone at [IDEM] told them it could
speed things along if they started from where we left off a few years
ago because they liked the way we handled the permitting process," said
Hawkins, who added that the 10-acre site on which he once had an option
in Pike Township is still available, near a recycling center in the
96th Street area.
Cooking With Plasma
- Waste is fed into a reactor and blasted with electrically charged gas
at about 1,500 degrees, which separates organic and inorganic waste.
- Organic waste forms synthetic gas-mostly hydrogen and carbon monoxide-when injected with pure oxygen or steam.
- Inorganic waste melts into silicate slag.
- Gases are cleaned and used as fuel.
- Slag can be used for road or construction material.
- Metals present can be sold to refiners or as scrap.
Source: PEAT International