Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Plasma Gasification: From Garbage to Clean Energy

Plasma Gasification: From Garbage to Clean Energy

Caroline DePaul
September 12, 2012
Core Biology I Honors / C-Block, Davies

Current Event Report- Plasma Gasification: From Garbage to Clean Energy

Leonard, Randy. "Plasma Gasification Raises Hope of Clean Energy from Garbage" New York Times Online. 11 Sept 2012. 

            David Robau is an environmental scientist for the Air Force who has been traveling throughout the United States trying to push for and publicize plasma gasification. Plasma gasification is a method of discarding garbage, developed by the Air Force, and is an alternative to typical incinerations. Plasma gasification, in addition to getting rid of trash, creates clean energy from garbage, recycles metals, eliminates toxic impurities, and makes enough electricity to power the entire system. As stated by Randy Leonard, the article's author, plasma gasification, “sounds too good to be true.” Currently, this system is being put into action at Florida’s Hurlburt Field Air Force base. The process of plasma gasification starts out with garbage being cut into very tiny pieces. These pieces are then fed into a gasification chamber, lacking in oxygen and hotter than nine thousand degrees. It is here that ionized particles called plasma heat the garbage to the point where only a pool of liquid oxide remains, with metal left sitting at the bottom. The metals are separated and later recycled for steel and other products. Also in the chamber, organic gases are decomposed into a fuel called synthesis gas, or syngas. The gas leaves the furnace, passes through a plasma torch polisher, and is cooled to two hundred degrees with injected water. It later passes through three filters in order to dispose of any other contaminants still left. The resulting syngas is as clean or even cleaner than natural gas and can be used to power the system. An additional result is that less dioxin, a toxic substance, is created than in normal incinerations, proving plasma gasification to be quite earth-friendly.

            The development of plasma gasification, if accepted and used by other waste companies, could create significant improvements in the environment and greatly affect humanity. It is a lot cleaner than incineration, and thus, a lot better for the environment. However, some scientists worry that by being able to completely get rid of all trash could potentially discourage recycling and the creation of renewable products. However, I believe this argument is weak when put in contrast to all the plus sides of plasma gasification. With this new technique and process of waste disposal, three hundred fifty kilowatts of electricity will be created from about ten tons of garbage every day. On top of this, metals will be recycled, less toxic substances will be created, and there will be a great decrease of emissions in the atmosphere.

            I feel the author, Randy Leonard, did a sufficient job at writing this article. He was successful in his description of the process of plasma gasification, going through each of the steps and using a lot of detail. On the other hand, I lost interest towards the end of the paper when the writer started veering off and talking about other facilities handling waste in similar ways to the plasma gasification method David Robau is promoting. Although this information is relevant, I feel the article could easily stand without this section. Also, I did not especially like how the article ended with the quote, "They're not even at the point where they should be thinking about waste-to-energy," from a scientist named Allen Hershkowitz  . In my opinion, the article should have ended with a positive note on plasma gasification and not with a statement from someone who opposes the idea. 


  1. This review by Caroline DePaul of “Plasma Gasification: From Garbage to Clean Energy” starts off with a great summary of the article. Reading the article it is easy to get confused by the process of plasma gasification but Caroline did a really good job breaking it down and writing it in a way that is easy to understand and does not loose your attention. This review focuses on the most important ideas from the article and brings them to question. I thought that the conclusion to the review was also very well presented. Caroline mentions some really strong opinions about the article and critiques it in a way that is easily relatable. She doesn’t just say what could be better she backs up her arguments with reasons. I was impressed how Caroline understood what parts of the articles were not interesting and decided that it was not worth putting in the summary. Since it was boring in the article it would have been just as boring and confusing in the review. The entire idea of plasma gasification is new to me and I think this review does a good job teaching people what it is. From the review, more than the article, I learned the process of plasma gasification and all the benefits it has on society. I knew that landfills are a big issue before I read the review and article. From this review I was able to learn what exactly people were trying to do to fix it. I found it very interesting to read about how this process works, not just that the process exists. This review is very good and there is little I would do to fix it. However, I do think that the reason for choosing this article should have been included somewhere. I also would have liked to see more on why people would choose recycling over plasma gasification and why they are hesitant to solve a major issue. In all I learned a lot from this review and think that Caroline did a great job summarizing the text and expressing her opinions.

  2. Caroline’s review of the article “Plasma Gasification: From Garbage to Clean Energy” was overall very well written. It starts with a summary of the article that was easy to understand. I found some of the article itself confusing since it contained so much information and Caroline took only the important information when summarizing it. I also liked how she clearly stated her disagreements with the article and she presented them in a very straightforward way. Caroline’s summary of the article and the article itself taught me a lot about the effort to create energy from garbage. Many people advocate the need to recycle and I had not previous heard of Plasma Gasification before reading this. I was interested in reading about how some people oppose the idea of Plasma Gasification because it could damage the idea of creating more renewable products. However, I disagree with this and think that both of these could exist together. This review was very good and there’s not much I would change. One thing I would have liked was to have more about what people thought of this idea, although Caroline did talk about opinions in the second paragraph. Caroline did a great job of making this article easier to understand and it was overall very interesting.