Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trash to Gas, Corn to Ammonia

Two topics in one post. Both can be found here.

First, Chinook Energy, based in Cranford, NJ, announced plans to build the first plant to take shredded car residue, turn it all into gas, and burn it for electricity. Greentech Media says:

It's far from the first to try this (see The Iron Man of Greentech Gets $20M and Biofuels and Electricity Take Out the Trash). But Chinook Energy President William
Gleason thinks its new joint venture with European Metal Recycling Ltd. to build the
first car waste-to-energy plant will succeed by simultaneously solving energy and recycling challenges.

Gleason said Chinook has secured financing for the plant, which will take in about 120,000 tons of auto shredder residue a year and churn out about 30 megawatts of power. He wouldnt disclose the cost of the plant, but said that projects of its size and scope are typically in the $100 million range.

But selling electricity will only make up about 60 percent of the plant's revenues, Gleason said. About 20 percent will come from the "tipping fees" the plant will collect for taking the car waste it will use – a key part of the business plans of many companies seeking to convert trash to energy.

And another 20 percent of the plant's revenues will come from the metals that can be recovered through Chinook's "active pyrolysis" gasification system, he said.

The process involves carefully managing the well-known process of exposing material to heat in the absence of oxygen – thus preventing combustion – to gasify the plastics and other energy-rich trash while leaving the metals intact, he said.

Wanna fly out to Iowa?

Anybody who's been victimized into taking torterous long drives through Illinois, Iowa or Nebraska commonly know one thing: all three states are comprised of a desolate, "Twighlight Zone" landscape, where time slows down to no meaning, and your short- and long-term memory are tortured in competitive fashion... where all you can see, think or feel is endless fields of corn. Bill Murray should have shot "Ground Hog Day 2" in one of these states. Well, the liberal do-gooders of San Francisco hatched up a feel good, psychedelic hope-dream plan when lost in one of the corn mazes.

Read below:

Meanwhile, out in Iowa, a San Francisco-based startup is seeking to turn corncobs into a key ingredient for fertilizer that's now almost exclusively made from natural gas – anhydrous ammonia.

SynGest Inc. announced Wednesday that it plans an $80 million plant capable of turning 150,000 tons of corn cobs into 50,000 tons of "bio-ammonia" per year once it's built.That's enough ammonia to fertilize about 500,000 acres of Iowa farmland – but it's a tiny fraction of the 18 million tons that U.S. agriculture consumes each year, half of it imported.

Other companies are seeking to turn corncobs and other agricultural waste into biofuel (see Poet to Produce Cellulosic Ethanol This Year and Ag Giants to Bring Cellulose Feedstock to Biorefinery Doors).

But as far as SynGest CEO Jack Oswald is concerned, "The most valuable thing we can make from crop waste in the Midwest is fertilizer." One big reason is that the feedstocks, and the end markets, are within 30 miles of the plant's proposed location, cutting back on transportation costs, he said.


Right now natural gas is relatively cheap, but ammonia is still selling for about $600 to $800 a ton across various U.S. agricultural regions, Oswald said. SynGest's process can undercut those prices "quite substantially, if we want to," he said.

The technology for turning plant waste into ammonia was developed over the past two decades or so by a group of scientists involved in Unitel Technologies, including SynGest CTO Ravi Randhava, Oswald said. The Iowa plant could be up and running in two years if all goes to plan, he said.

Another byproduct of the process is bio-char, a charcoal that can be used as a soil additive to hold moisture and help reduce nitrogen leaching, he said. Environmentalists have criticized the U.S. corn-growing industry for its heavy use of fertilizers containing nitrogen. That's because it can be carried by rain runoff into watersheds and thus into oceans, where it has caused a massive "dead zone" in Gulf of Mexico waters near the mouth of the Mississippi River.


But it's possible that SynGest's ammonia could serve as a fuel as well, if ammonia-based fuel cells come into fashion (see Uncle Sam Wants Portable Fuel Cells). After all, Oswald said, "Ammonia is a better hydrogen carrier than hydrogen," which as a pure gas is explosive and hard to transport.

Ammonia can even be used to make plastics (see this Green Light post).

Maintain the hope.

- Brewskie

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