Plasma technology can’t handle Juneau’s waste yet

Many Juneau residents would like to see the city invest in technology that could turn solid waste into energy.

More than two years ago the assembly began making inquiries about plasma gasification incinerators, which use super-hot gas and electricity to break down matter, releasing energy and synthetic gas that can be converted to fuel and burned for electricity.

Waste Management – the company that owns Juneau’s landfill – is experimenting with a small plasma gasification plant at its Columbia Ridge landfill in Oregon. But company vice president Dean Kattler says it’s still several years away from being viable for a community like Juneau.

“It’s only 25 tons per day. It’s very, very small. It would not handle the volume that currently comes in today, even in Juneau,” says Kattler. “So, it is that first step, we really look at it as a ten year window before something will probably be commercially viable.”

Kattler says Juneau would likely need at least a 125-ton incinerator, which would make cost an issue. Even the small, 25-ton plant in Oregon cost 18-million dollars, and it took the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality a year longer than expected to permit the thing.

That news was met with disappointment by some Juneau Assembly members.

The city stopped incinerating trash at the landfill about 10 years ago when it became too costly to keep up with maintenance and environmental regulations.

Meanwhile, the sludge incinerator at the Juneau Douglas Treatment Plant has been shuttered for nearly two years. Since then, the city has been paying to have biosolids either dumped in the landfill or shipped down south. A plasma incinerator would not solve the city’s sludge problems, because the technology does not work on wet waste.

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