Mythbusters – Debunking the 8 Misconceptions of Gasification
Aries Clean Energy
September 26, 2017
As engineers, scientists, and clean energy advocates, it’s important to use facts to advance our clean energy future and reduce waste.
In the Discovery Channel’s ever-popular show Mythbusters, Jamie and Adam take on tall tales and urban legends to determine their validity. Here is our version of Mythbusters, where we see which misconceptions about gasification could be debunked. As engineers, scientists, and clean energy advocates, it’s important to use facts to advance our clean energy future and reduce waste.
Here are some of the leading misconceptions about gasification:
- Too few currently operating units
- Unproven technology
- Too limited size and scale
- Too similar to incineration
- Complex to operate
- Not financially viable
- Smelly and loud
Myth #1: Too few operating units
Busted: There are more than 272 operating gasification plants worldwide with 686 gasifiers.i And those numbers are growing.
Myth #2: Unproven technology
Busted: Gasification has been reliably used on a commercial scale worldwide for more than 60 years in the refining, fertilizer, and chemical industries, and for more than 35 years in the electric power industry.ii
Myth #3: Too limited size and scale
Busted: Gasification of biomass and municipal solid waste does not require the larger gasifiers that are used in industrial applications. And, newer technologies have gone far beyond the smaller “hobby-sized” units. There are a wide range of choices available.
Many interested in biomass and MSW gasification want a gasifier that is just big enough to handle the MSW of a particular city.iii
Aries Clean Energy custom gasifiers can process as little as 30 tons/day or more than 100 tons/day of material. This allows for localized and customized needs to enhance efficiency.
Myth #4: Too similar to incineration
Busted: Gasification is fundamentally different than incineration.
- uses large amounts of air to burn Municipal Solid Waste or other feedstocks
- produces large amounts of CO2 and toxic ash
- uses small amounts of air and heat to break molecules apart and recombines them, which produces syngas, which burns cleanly
- produces high carbon biochar which can be used in other processes
On average, conventional waste-to-energy plants that use mass-burn incineration can convert one ton of MSW to about 550 kilowatt-hours of electricity. With gasification technology, one ton of MSW can be used to produce up to 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, a much more efficient and cleaner way to utilize this source of energy.iv
For the science aficionados, here is a look at the chemical reaction:
Myth #5: Too complex to operate
Busted: Large scale coal-fired power plants can take up 150 acres and require stringent controls to manage pollution.
In contrast, gasifiers can be scaled for the need at hand, and easily added into wastewater treatment facilities existing sites or at a manufacturing facility.
The gasification reaction is less complex and is an automated process.
Myth #6: Not financially viable
Busted: Gasifiers can begin producing positive cash flow. The timeframe being a function of system cost, offset waste disposal cost, and value of energy produced.
Gasifiers can offset or replace a significant amount of fuel costs for a facility. Gasifiers produce a high-octane syngas that can be used to generate electricity in-line.
In addition, the systems are paid to process feedstocks, or the costs of the feedstock are generally minimal. For example, when MSW is used as a feedstock, it becomes a “negative” cost because the previous landfilling fees and transportation costs are removed.
If the facility is able to produce excess energy and sell it, or generate carbon credits, even more revenue can be realized.v
This is a boon for municipalities with shrinking budgets and growing waste costs.
Myth #7: Unsafe
Busted: In the gasification process, the input materials are not a fuel, but a feedstock for a high temperature chemical conversion process.vi In the gasifier, the feedstock reacts with little or no oxygen, breaking down the feedstock into simple molecules and converting them into syngas. The chemical conversion is highly safe based on historical process records.
Myth #8: Smelly and loud
Busted: There are no emissions or odors from the gasifier. The entire process is contained in a sealed vessel.
Besides the conveyors that move feedstocks, and fans operating to move air, there is very little noise.
In fact, if you didn’t know what a gasifier is, you likely wouldn’t even know it was there.
Hollywood-hype can’t compete with this staggering number:
- the world currently generates about 4 billion tons of all types of waste per year
We hope with these myths busted we can advance innovations that are becoming a part of the solution. Gasification systems offer too many advantages to be shrouded behind hearsay and myth. We are excited to be a part of this clean energy revolution and hope you will join us.