Opinion

Trash: America’s best bet for energy independence

Unlike nuclear power, new methods of turning garbage into energy actually decrease waste.

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It’s clear that as a major industrial nation America needs to devour enormous amounts of energy to survive. It’s also clear America must become energy independent as soon as possible.

Huge amounts of money are spent daily buying energy from foreign nations that have no real respect for our well-being. Permitting America to be dependent on such nations can only lead to complications, especially during times of economic crisis or war.

Like the presidents before him, Barack Obama recognizes the need for US energy independence. In his State of the Union message last week, he recommended that the US seek alternative energy sources and apply innovation to creating clean-energy jobs.

To achieve this end, we mustn’t resort to opening more nuclear power plants, as Obama suggested. The United States doesn’t need to create radioactive facilities for generating energy. It needs a practical solution to US foreign-oil dependency, one that actually decreases rather than increases waste.

Such a solution is right under our nose. It’s one that doesn’t depend on high-voltage electric lines; won’t reduce the food supply like corn ethanol and soybean diesel; and isn’t unreliable like solar, hydro, and wind energy sources.

The solution to our energy independence is in our garbage cans.

Back to the future?

Turning garbage into energy calls to mind the 1980s film “Back to the Future,” which inspired whimsical images of future cars powered on waste. Since that time, the technology for turning trash and commercial waste into electricity and biofuel has come a long way. In just the past decade, research and experimentation has brought about a cleaner and more efficient conversion system.

Turning trash and commercial waste into electricity and biofuel has the potential to drastically reduce dependency on foreign oil. It also has the potential to encourage innovation and create jobs.

“Trash will move from being a liability to an asset, providing a clean source of energy that can be used where it is produced,” alternative IST Energy CEO Stuart Haber recently told ABC News.

Mr. Haber’s company is one of the many that has developed equipment to support this statement. His Green Energy Machine, for example, is able to supply sufficient energy for a 200-unit apartment complex with just three tons of trash. During the conversion process, it is capable of eliminating 95 percent of the waste.

Unlike old methods, the new incinerator plants don’t require filthy smokestacks that pollute the environment. Instead they create heat in oxygen-starved containers, which turbines or generators convert into electricity and diesel. As a result, minimum unhealthy emissions are being released into the environment during the conversion process.

Before gasification, waste had no other important usage beyond landfills, which ultimately would contaminate the groundwater with leachates, and produce greenhouse gases.

By converting waste to energy, this contamination is largely avoided and the waste becomes an asset that is capable of supplying communities and large apartment complexes with power.

It is almost perfect.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees.

Roadblocks

Opponents challenge the cleanliness, the energy efficiency, and even the greenness of thermochemical plants. Their biggest fears are that the production of such waste will create alarming amounts of toxins like dioxin or pollutants like mercury.

But such environmental hazards, when intelligently confronted, can easily be eliminated with new solutions.

The Plasco Energy Group, of Ottawa, Ontario, for example, overcame the dioxin issue by removing all the chlorine before combustion. And the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, of DeWitt, New York, reduced the mercury emission significantly by removing fluorescent lights, batteries, thermostats, and other mercury-laden items from the trash.

In Warrenton, Va., Mayor George Fitch is hoping to use his town’s discarded waste to provide electricity and fuel for its 8,500 residents. By burning 250 tons a day of commercial and residential waste, he believes he will be able to power 60 percent of all the homes and buildings, and provide biofuel for the school buses and public safety vehicles.

With the cooperation of the board of supervisors and a private investment company, he expects the planned thermochemical plant will add to the community’s greenness and produce an alternative, forever-renewable energy.

By each of us implementing waste-to-energy projects in our community, together we could significantly make a difference. These projects can be as small as an apartment complex or as large as an entire community.

Our successes can be used as an important model of a sustainable, independent energy program that can be duplicated anywhere in the world. With congressional support and incentives, it will lead to a cleaner and healthier, energy-independent America.

As Mr. Fitch puts it, “local energy independence is a viable solution to our national energy crisis. We must pursue it and refine it until it works for us perfectly. Failure to move forward now with such an alternative energy plan will only leave America hostage to those foreign interests who would like to control us by gaining a monopoly of our energy supply.”

Joe David is the author of five books; his latest book is “Gourmet Getaways.”

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