Plasma Arc Gasification For Waste Management
Plasma arc gasification is a relatively new technology for disposal of wastes. A large number of organisations, the world over, are developing plasma gasification systems for treating trash of various kinds and generating useful byproducts, while minimising the environmental pollution using proprietary processes
lasma gasification technology is particularly suitable for disposal of hazardous and radioactive wastes. It is now being seen as an attractive option for disposal of municipal solid wastes as well. This technology has an edge over the other processes involving combustion as it can it can turn solid municipal waste (organic as well as inorganic) into a clean, green, renewable fuel in the form of a synthesis gas (SynGas) with almost no residues that require further disposal. The major advantages of plasma arc technology are: 1. Compared to combustion/incineration technology, it creates much less atmospheric pollution. 2. In techno-economic terms, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur are not emitted during normal operations because the system works in the absence of oxygen. 3. Toxic materials become encapsulated and are therefore much safer to handle than the toxic ash left by combustion/gasifier processes. Despite the mentioned advantages, the process is cost-intensive. As per 12th Finance Commission guidelines for grants, plasma arc technology may only be employed for hazardous or
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GP CAPt (Retd) K.C. BhAsin

Other Well-known Waste Management Techniques
Managing domestic, industrial and commercial waste has traditionally consisted of collection, followed by disposal. Depending upon the type of waste and the area, a level of processing may follow collection. This processing may be to reduce the hazard of the waste, recover material for recycling, produce energy from the waste or reduce it in volume for more efficient disposal. The other important waste disposal methods are briefed below. Of these, anaerobic digestion/biomethanation is comparatively a new method. Landfills. Disposing of waste in a landfill is the most traditional method commonly practised in most countries. Few people want a landfill in their local neighbourhood because of adverse environmental impact. Incineration. It is the process of destroying waste material by burning it. It involves high temperatures of 870°C to 1200°C (1400°F to 2200°F), to volatilise and combust (in the presence of oxygen). It is recognised as a practical method of disposing of hazardous waste materials (such as biological medical waste). The levels of chemical compounds released into the atmosphere when burning mixed waste, cause environmental pollution. Anaerobic digestion/biomethanation. In this process, the organic fraction of the waste is segregated and fed into a closed container (biogas digester). In the digester, the segregated waste undergoes biodegradation in the presence of methanogenic bacteria under anaerobic conditions, producing methane-rich biogas and effluent. The biogas can be used either for cooking/heating applications, or for generating motive power or electricity through dual-fuel or gas engines, low-pressure gas turbines or steam turbines. The sludge from anaerobic digestion, after stabilisation, can be used as a soil conditioner (manure) depending upon its composition, which is determined mainly by the composition of the input waste. Biomethanation is the most widely used technology all over the world, more so in Europe. The main advantage is that it is environment-friendly and reliable. The only disadvantage is that it cannot treat non-biodegradable organic fractions. bio-medical wastes. For various other well-known conventional waste management techniques, see Box. ing lightning. Much of the universe exists in plasma state. The sun, stars and the interstellar matter are plasma manifestations. The gas in the upper parts of the ionosphere (say, above 400 km altitude) is completely ionised. On cosmological scales, plasma is entirely dominating the universe, with safe estimates giving that at least 99 per cent

What is plasma?
Plasma is the fourth state of matter (the other three states being solid, liquid and gas). It is an ionised gas that exists in nature, for example, dur-

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electrons and ions along with neutrals—all at different temperatures. Plasma densities vary widely from 103 to 1033 charged 1 1 8 • J a n ua ry 2 0 0 9 • e l e c t ro n i c s f o r yo u It can completely dissociate all organic and inorganic matter into their elemental compounds for recovery and recycling. By passing a DC current between the cathode and the anode of the plasma arc torch and simultaneously passing of air in the annular space of the torch.llnl. 1). avoiding the formation of secondary w w w.. 1: A plasma torch in operation Fig. Plasmas are electrically conductive. 2. you may refer the chart at ‘http:// FusEdWeb.000°C. The plasma torch can produce extremely high temperatures that cannot be otherwise created except through nuclear fusion/ CPEP/’ Plasma gasification for conversion of waste into energy What a plasma gasification system can do? Fig. co m . A simplified circuit of the plasma torch is shown in Fig. i. e f y m ag . With core temperature running up to 10.000°C. plasma is able to break down toxic compounds within milliseconds. For details. Plasma can be industrially produced using a plasma torch (Fig. 2: Simplified circuit of a plasma torch of all matter is in the plasma state. These consist of freely moving charged particles. A plasma reactor operates in an oxygen-starved environment and hence there is no combustion.Technology focus particles/m 3 while the corresponding temperatures vary from 102 Kelvin to 108 Kelvin. an extremely high-temperature environment is created ranging in temperature from 5000°C to 10.e.

e. Most inorganic compounds lack carbon.000°C General classification and treatment of wastes in plasma gasifier All wastes may be generally classified into organic or inorganic wastes. Fig. e. food and living beings. These all have carbon-based compounds.000ºC) can process both inorganic and organic wastes including industrial and nuclear wastes at atmospheric pressure. however. Any temperature below this will produce incomplete dissociation. such as carbon dioxide (CO 2 ). Organic wastes are associated with living things. i. sea and air. 4: Artistic view of plasma trash processing system including generation of byproducts 1 2 0 • J a n ua ry 2 0 0 9 • e l e c t ro n i c s f o r yo u .e. Thus with the temperatures achieved in a PGV system (above 2700°C). all the molecules are totally dissociated. e. Inorganic molecules tend to have a relatively small number of atoms as compared to organic molecules. 3 shows the effect of temperature on the state of matter as the temperature rises to about 10. salt (NaCl) and ammonia (NH3).g. The molecular dissociation zone starts above 2700°C. rock.Technology focus Fig.g. Transformation of organic and inorganic matter in the plasma reactor results in the following: 1. On the other hand. flora. a few. but it is never attached to hydrogen atoms as in hydrocarbons. The extreme temperatures generated using a plasma torch system (reactor). The plasma torches that operate at very high temperatures (between 5000ºC and 100. do contain it. minerals. inorganic wastes are those having non-biological (or geological) origin.g. e f y m ag . fauna.. 3: Effect of temperature on the state of matter combustion products including the polluting flue gas. co m Fig. having biological origin. transform the w w w...

Its heating value depends on the type of feed treated. Pyrolysis and gasification: similarities and differences Pyrolysis is thermal degradation of waste in the absence of air to produce char. e. which pushes it to the plasma furnace. This synthetic gas is almost a green fuel. The inorganic materials are simultaneously melted into molten slag. Gasification is breakdown of hydrocarbons into a syngas by carefully controlling the amount of oxygen present. and carbon dioxide and nitrogen (60 per cent). No ashes are produced in the process. the next step is to ‘clean’ the syngas or producer gas. It also incorporates a water-cooling system. 2. these processes deliberately limit the conversion so that combustion does not take place directly. co m Components of plasma gasification system The design of plasma gasification plant is not standardised and various companies engaged in their manufacture custom build the facility as per customers’ specifications. because the true impact of most chemicals and the mixtures of chemicals are still poorly understood. they convert the waste into valuable intermediates that can be further processed for materials recycling or energy recovery. An artistic view of complete processing of trash (feed) and generation of byproducts using the plasma gasification technology is shown in Fig. Towards the bottom side of the chamber is drainage system for slag. following are some of the essential parts of any such facility: Trituration and conveyor section. However. Thereafter. Suitable neutralisation techniques for these three products are employed. The chamber is lined 1 2 2 • J a n ua ry 2 0 0 9 • e l e c t ro n i c s f o r yo u . HF (hydrofluoric acid) and H2S (hydrogen sulphide). SynGas is often cleaner than the natural gas (mixture of hydrocarbon gases). Whereas incineration fully converts the input waste into energy and ash. the gas is burned in internal combustion (IC) engine generator sets or turbines to produce electricity. with heat-resistant refractory material. To be concluded next month w w w. but typically SynGas has a lower heating value of 10-15 megajoules per kilogram. Caution. Gas cleanup filter. In the heat exchanger. the hot gases heat water to produce steam. As the gases produced by pyrolysis mainly comprise carbon monoxide (25 per cent). This section comprises a grinder or crusher for breaking the trash into manageable size for handling by the conveyor. which is then used for running a steam turbine coupled to a generator to produce electricity. inert glass-like material (through magmavication process) that can be used by the construction industry.Technology focus organic matter into basic gases such as synthetic gas—a mix of hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas. The homogenous and sulphuric products contained in the feed are transformed respectively to HCl (hydrochloric acid). pyrolysis oil and syngas. Pyrolysis chamber with plasma torch/torches.g. Both pyrolysis and gasification turn wastes into energy-rich fuels by heating the waste under controlled conditions. the conversion of wood into charcoal. It allows the garbage in but prevents hot gases from escaping into the atmosphere. Towards the top of chamber is the exit vent for the gases. It is rather early to draw conclusions about toxicity effects of the emissions from both these processes. hydrogen and hydrocarbons (15 per cent). After purification process. e f y m ag . which upon cooling becomes a vitrified. Gas reformer and heat exchanger. The reformer reforms hydrocarbon fuel into a reformate gas such as hydrogenrich syn gas. Instead. which is used by advanced gas turbines for the generation of electrical power. 4. It is an air-locked chamber with one or more plasma torches.

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