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Will the Real “Environmental Community” Please Stand Up?
is dedicating your life to saving the Planet not considered an “environmentally friendly” thing to do? Who
is included in the "environmental community" anyway? Is it just the folks who see the things that have gone wrong
and complain about it, or does it include the people who are out there every day working to fix the mess we've all
choose how we spend our time during this Life. Hopefully we can all find ways for caring for our Mother Earth. We
have the freedom to live the way we want, as long as we first, do no harm. Passively standing by doing
nothing doesn't help, and preventing anything from getting done is NOT the equivalent of doing no harm. Each
of us in our own way must be an active part of the global "environmental community". The alternative is to
continue the practice of Waste of our way of life and of our planet's natural resources.
severity of our abundant problems, most Thinking Humans would not consider Doing Nothing as a reasonable solution.
Fighting to make sure Nothing happens does not define nor claim the "moral high-ground", but rather signifies
surrender to what some perceive as the inevitable calamity of the human condition. Simple preservation is not
maintainable for humankind in the long term. Unless one concedes that true environmental protection can only be
accomplished in the absence of Man, we all must Do Something for our environment with the best tools we have, doing
the very best we can. If you can't or won't help, at least you can get out of the way.
Socio-Enviro-Economic Resource Imperative is something
most Humans can understand:
· We need to Waste Less, Reuse what we can, and constantly
· We need to stop throwing our discarded resources into leaky buckets in the
· We need to convert what we do eventually discard into the new stuff we
· We need to produce biofuels locally to reduce and then replace import of
· We need to stop poisoning ourselves and our environment, and really clean
· We need to slow the destruction and evisceration of our virgin natural
every tool in the box to make these crucial goals into realities.
beginning back at the time of the Stockholm
Convention, a bunch of good people sent up a Hue and Cry against the practice of simply lighting a match to trash
and letting it “render to ash” … against what at that time constituted “industrial incineration”. Stockholm marks
the start of the global push to reduce industrial release of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Incinerators
have gotten cleaner and cleaner, until Mass Burn Incineration makes heat for electricity out of municipal solid
waste, with very, very little pollutant release. What today’s state-of-the-art incinerators DO is make clean,
affordable and arguably renewable energy.
incineration does not do is recover materials to be returned to productive use. Trash Burners
are primarily for Disposal and for Energy Generation, not for recovery of the molecules in those discards.
Incineration does not compete with Conversion for Recovery; these are different tools for different purposes.
Incineration competes with King Coal, Bubblin’ Crude, Monster Dams and “Safe” Nuclear for supplying our basic heat
and power. Conversion Technologies can recover molecular resources. Without trying to assign value or to
justify Favorites, it is import to recognize that these are different tool sets all together. Before you pick
winners and losers, at least know the difference.
Maintainable Environmentalism might be defined as making the best use of the tools and resources we have
available. For a chimp in the jungle, that might be using a stick to dig bugs out of a log. For Urban Dwellers, the
tools need to be a bit more complex.
what the tools of Conversion Technology (CT) can do: Resource Recovery. "Resource Recovery" is the collection and separation of certain waste
materials for processing into new forms, which will become raw materials for new products. In addition to being
able to generate renewable energy, CTs are designed to turn our discards into products. The collateral benefits are
impressive; they include reduced dependence on petroleum and less mining for virgin materials. Consider, if you
will, what these ultra-clean CT tools can accomplish in cleaning up the mess we have already made and recover
resources at the same time. They can also accomplish what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls
“incremental mitigation”; replace old, dirty processes with clean new processes, a little at a
dedicated to this Waste Conversion industrial sector have been trying so hard for so long to do
SOMETHING other than poke another 8 mile deep well, looking for Energy; doing SOMETHING other than flushing our
wealth of resources down the proverbial drain; doing the Right Thing by turning our societal left-overs back into
goods. Why try so hard for so long? Well, to make money, of course … but no, really, because it’s the right way to
go about making the Energy stuff we need to run our gazillion cars, and heat our humongous homes, and light our
sea-to-shining-sea cities. It is a whole lot better than continuing to dump our precious resources in a (albeit
well lined and monitored) hole in the ground, and expecting our children’s children to keep paying to make sure it
all stays put.
Recycling: Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) are
the front-line for CTs, using closely integrated human-plus-machine, kinetic-driven sorting processes to
selectively reclaim as much value from municipal solid waste (MSW) as is both economically and functionally
possible. MRFs do a great job these days of sorting and removing the hazardous, the reusable and the recyclable
goods from the never-ending MSW stream. But once we’ve removed the car batteries and paint cans, set the CPUs and
Monitors off to one side, picked out the cans and bottles, and pushed as much Green Waste and cardboard off the tip
floor as we think we can sell, we have managed at our best to separate about 50% for “recycling”. So whatever CT
plans we have, we MRF First!
really, really busy with our front-end Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle parts of the Waste Management Hierarchy, half of
everything gathered still goes in the Dispose category. That other 50% is post-recycling residual: gritty,
moist, mostly-biomass, rapidly rotting tonnage that still has to go somewhere else. Right
now, that Elsewhere is (you guessed it) either a landfill or an incinerator. In a MRF that receives 2,000 ton per
day through the front door (small for most of our municipalities), that means 1,000 tons per day or over 350,000
tons per year of “post-recycling MSW residuals” have to go out the back.
Recovery has two pathways to avoid Disposal: that
gritty residual can either be "burnt" to directly recover thermal energy for combined cooling, heating, and power
generation (CCHP), or converted using non-combustion technology designed for molecular resource recovery. In
Europe, the choice is usually Both. After collecting and MRFing, some of the residual goes to sterilization and
compression to make Refuse Derived Fuel for CCHP, while most of the wet goo goes into anaerobic digestion (AD) for
bio-methane recovery, and the dry crud undergoes thermal conversion to syngas. The European Union (EU) uses every
arrow in their "waste management for resource recovery" quiver. Knowing the difference between the
bird-point-equipped arrows intended for precision and the Big Game broad-head tipped shafts characterizes the well
versed and well equipped Hunter. So too must we now understand the fine differences between these Resource Recovery
tools and their appropriate uses.
Bright Line Difference between Incineration and
Conversion could stand a visual example. Light a wooden match, and look closely at the burning end. There is a
space between the top of the match, and the bottom of the flame. That space is un-combusted gas being release by
the match head as it super-heats. The Flame starts when enough Oxygen gets mixed with that produced gas to cause it
to burn with a flame, or to "combust". The match releases a "Producer Gas", which is a synthetic fuel gas or
"Syngas", and what happens between that match top and the next use of that gas is the real difference between
Incineration and Conversion.
is designed to mix oxygen with this syngas and immediately encourage direct combustion. Conversion waits;
the CT system is designed to allow operators to figure out what that Syngas is before Final Use, so both the
feedstock and the conversion system can be optimized for desired output. Perhaps that Output is to combust the
checked and as-needed modified syngas in an engine; perhaps instead the syngas is further refined for pipeline
injection as renewable natural gas. Perhaps it is passed over catalysts and converted to a diesel equivalent, or
bubbled through microbes to make a variety of short-chain alcohols.
the Input, the CT system can purposefully recombine the molecular components as they are taken apart, reforming and
refining the raw Producer Gas in unending combinations. Energy, yes: as super-clean burning gaseous and/or liquid
fuels that can be stored and transported. But we can also produce any configuration of “green chemicals” that
directly compete with the best foundation commodities that can be derived from Petroleum to make any number of
products we use every day. With increased and advanced MRF capabilities integrating Conversion Technologies, more
kinds of “waste” can come in the front door.
Stand Up. The Environmental Community this, the
Environmental Community that. I'll stake my bet on people who work to clean things up, not on those who
point at the mess and reject every conceivable solution. Let's raise that communal environmental consciousness to
help build on our innate human capacity to use logical trial and error to figure things out. Let's tackle the most
difficult social, economic and environmental problems using every technical gizmo in our most amazing Environmental
Community toolbox. And I'll proudly go on record right now: I am a walking, breathing, contributing member of the
maintainable environmental community and I'm committed to making a positive difference. Prove me
© Teru Talk by JDMT, Inc 2011. All rights
You are free to reprint and use this article as long as no
changes are made to its content or references and credit is given to the author, Michael Theroux.