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Zapping garbage will always be on the solid waste agenda if Marion rep has his way

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, Marion, Tom Podzimek, Viewpoint on April 16, 2008 at 2:54 am

Who needs a paid Minnesota consultant and a report that covers a waterfront when you’ve got Marion’s Charlie Kress?

That’s a bit of how it went this week at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency Board meeting when Kress, Marion’s representative on the agency board, got his favorite topic, plasma arc technology, on the board’s monthly agenda.

At the meeting, too, was Louis Circeo, director of the Plasma Applications Research Program at the Georgia Tech Research Institute in Atlanta.

Circeo is bit of a celebrity for Kress and some others in and around Marion who have created a nonprofit corporation, Waste Not Iowa, which is devoted to making Iowa a landfill-free zone. Waste Not Iowa paid for Circeo’s trip.

This core group of Circeo fans became enthused with plasma arc technology back in 2005 at a time when the city of Marion was fighting the solid waste agency over the agency’s plan to expand its Site 2 landfill north of Marion at County Home Road and Highway 13.

Plasma arc – there wasn’t an operating waste-to-energy plasma arc facility in the United States in 2005 and there isn’t today – became the option for some rather than expanding a landfill.

Ultimately, the city of Marion settled with the agency, and an expansion, more modest than first planned, is now underway at Site 2.

As part of the agreement, the agency board set aside a spot for a Marion representative. And Kress filled it. The agency also made a commitment to keep an eye on technological changes in the solid waste field. And Kress, it is clear, is not going to let them forget about plasma arc.

It was hard not to notice Tuesday that plasma-arc guru Circeo’s appearance in front of the board Tuesday came on the heels of a report to the board last month in which a Minnesota consultant told the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency Board to embrace its landfill and to “wait and see” for up to five years on a variety of waste-to-energy technologies, including plasma arc.

In that report, Curtis Hartog, a senior technical consultant with Foth Infrastructure & Environment LLC, Lake Elmo, Minn., said many of the waste-to-energy ideas had not yet proven viable in the United States.

Kress had plenty of questions for Hartog a month ago, and plenty of support for Circeo on Tuesday.

Circeo’s visit to the solid was board was a return one. He spoke to the board two and half years ago, a talk that prompted a few board members, including Kress, to travel to Circeo’s Georgia laboratory two years ago to witness the technology first hand.

Back in 2006, Circeo talked about St. Lucie County, Fla., and its plans to build a plasma arc operation to zap its municipal solid waste.

Circeo said Tuesday that the Florida county now was readying to break ground by the end of this year.

Circeo also said New Orleans, Tallahassee, Fla., and Sacramento, Calif., have decided to build plasma arc facilities, and that Hartford, Conn., also is moving in that direction.

The promise of plasma arc technology is that it can turn garbage and other waste into steam and electricity and eliminate the need for landfills.

In fact, Circeo said that ultimately plasma arc will be cheaper than putting solid waste in landfills. He put the cost of building a plasma arc plant handling 1,000 tons of garbage a day at $150 million.

Board Chairman Tom Podzimek and board member Linda Langston told Circeo that they were still waiting for a working plasma arc system in the United States that could actually produce reliable data on operational costs as well as energy.

Circeo said such data might be four to six years away.

Podzimek, using Circeo’s figures, noted that an operating plant in Japan — Japan has a small plant and a bigger one — has far less impressive energy output to energy input than Circeo estimates a new plasma arc operation would have. Circeo said newer technology is better.

Podzimek also noted that many of the proposed plants are large ones, and he wondered if paying the cost to truck garbage to a site would be figured into the overall cost equation.

Circeo noted that cities like New Orleans and Atlanta have a lot of municipal waste.

Podzimek also wondered if fees to dump waste, called tipping fees, would climb for waste taken to a plasma arc facility. Would industries then go elsewhere where tipping fees remained lower? Podzimek wondered.

Circeo said the proposal in St. Lucie County, Fla., does not call for higher tipping fees.

Podzimek noted Tuesday that the board did not pay to bring Circeo to town. Such input is always appreciated, Podzimek said. But he added that the board would not have paid for what was a return visit from Circeo just a month after the board’s consultant had provided a comprehensive report on high-tech, waste-to-energy technology.

In documents filed with the Iowa Secretary of State, Waste Not Iowa, which paid for Circeo’s trip, lists Dennis Naughton of Cedar Rapids as president, Kress as secretary and treasurer and John Vernon of Marion as a director.

 

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  1. I was at this meeting. Plasma Arch Technology does have a great deal to offer. At this point there still is to many unanswered questions. It does look very promising.

  2. Absolutely insane. ROI shows no benefit whatsoever.

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