Alliance Federated Energy recently announced plans to develop a $225 million renewable energy plant in Milwaukee, dubbed the Project Apollo. The plant would use technology developed by Westinghouse Plasma Corp. of Madison, Pennsylvania, to convert waste at high heat into a synthetic gas, or syngas which would be used as fuel to generate power. The plant would create 250 construction jobs and 45 full time jobs.
The first phase of the project is expected to be running by 2013 and process about 1,200 tons of municipal and industrial waste, per day. It would generate 25 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power about 20,000 homes. The second phase would generate another 25 MW of power. Several plasma gasification facilities operating around world, but there are no commercial plants operating in the U.S. Project Apollo will be the first.
How does the project compare to conventional power plants? The project would generate less than five percent of the electricity generated from the coal-fired power plant that We Energies opened recently in Oak Creek.
“This commercially proven technology is the ultimate in recycling,” Christopher Maloney, Alliance chief executive, said. “And we are pleased to be building our first project right here in Wisconsin, a state committed to promoting environmental stewardship and technological innovation.”
“We are pleased that AFE has selected Wisconsin for their first renewable energy project,” Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle said. “This technology has real potential to help us address the growing need for clean renewable power. Project Apollo will create new clean energy jobs in our state, reduce the need for continued landfilling of our wastes, and reduce greenhouse gases.”
“We believe that plasma gasification technology has the potential to be a major player in the renewable energy market and are excited to be working with AFE on their Apollo Project,” said Bob Cutshall, president of CorVal-Ryan, the company selected to design and fabricate the plant. “We have a number of plasma gasification-based renewable energy projects in design or under construction and see that number growing in the coming years.”
How green is plasma gasification?
Westinghouse’s website calls plasma gasification a “clean and efficient option to convert various feedstocks into energy in an environmentally responsible manner.” The website lists the following benefits of plasma gasification:
- No bottom ash or fly ash that requires treatment or landfill disposal is generated.
- Metals and non-combustible inorganics are melted and captured in an environmentally benign slag, which can be used as construction aggregate.
- Each plasma gasification application will have a differing environmental profile, but in general terms a plasma gasification facility will have very low emissions of NOx, SOx, dioxins and furans.
- In the plasma gasification process CO2 can be captured and sequestered.
Westinghouse’s website quotes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as saying plasma gasification is a technology “which potentially can use various types of waste, produce electricity and hydrogen without emitting dioxin, furan and mercury, is plasma arc technology. Municipalities can install a plasma arc facility which will eliminate land filling.”
Some environmentalists do not agree with Westinghouse’s assessment of plasma gasification. The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) is the biggest critic of syngas. GAIA’s website labels syngas as an “incinerator technology,” and states that syngas is an incinerator technology that “has shown even higher costs, less dependability and inconsistent energy generation.”
GAIA’s website also says that data has shown that in plasma gasification “dioxins, furans and other toxins are formed…and in some cases, toxins are formed in higher quantities than in conventional mass-burn incinerators.”