Giving New Meaning to the Phrase ‘One Man’s Waste Is Another Man’s Treasure’

Giving New Meaning to the Phrase ‘One Man’s Waste Is Another Man’s Treasure’

September 05, 2013 at 10:09am

A decade ago, the word “waste” would likely conjure up just one image: garbage. Today, if you use the word, numerous associations are possible. That’s because technology has made the word itself somewhat a contradiction as fewer and fewer things can really be called waste. After all, now we can recycle everything from construction waste to food waste to household waste.

What’s more, things that we now refer to as waste, in the past didn’t have a name at all. For example, fifty years ago, the excess heat thrown off by industrial processes was just something that technicians and plant operators had to deal with when working around the equipment. Similarly, the greenhouse gases emitted by landfills were “invisible,” until we realized what they were and how they contributed to climate change.

So now we are living in a time when what we call “waste” is more and more often seen as a new source of fuel for electricity generation.

The whole phenomenon gives new meaning to the expression: “One man’s waste is another man’s treasure.” In fact, because Sweden is so efficient at recycling and uses waste to fuel its heating requirements during its long winters, it’s been forced to import waste from its European neighbors!

GE has compiled a list of its top five “waste-to-energy” technologies. This diverse mix of power generating solutions – some of which are still under development and others already operational, perfectly embodies the conundrum of what “waste” really is. It also reflects GE’s enormous long-term commitment to finding and refining its clean energy solutions that form an important part of its ecomagination portfolio.

This list also outlines the wide horizons open in this region to using increasingly clean forms of energy generation. Already in this region, one of the technologies listed below – the Jenbacher gas engine – is being used, in both Lebanon and the UAE to generate power from landfill biogas.

  1. The Jenbacher Engine
    The highly versatile Jenbacher engine can run on natural gas, biogas, landfill gas, coalmine gas, sewage gas, and more. These engines are used by a broad range of commercial, industrial, and municipal customers to generate power, heat, and cooling. In Europe alone, more than 1,100 Jenbacher engines are running on biogas, and in Australia and Ukraine, they’re being used to convert coalmine gas to electricity. China’s largest chicken waste biogas plant uses a Jenbacher to produce electricity.
  2. Waste-Heat Recovery
    This technology recovers heat given off by industrial processes and uses it to produce electricity. It’s a fast-growing trend in the global power industry, and for good reason: it can dramatically improve operating efficiency while lowering an industrial plant’s carbon footprint. How does waste-heat recovery work? Heat from the plant’s operations is captured in an evaporator that then boils water or other fluid to produce vapor. The vapor expands, spinning a turbine, which drives a generator and produces electricity. The vapor is then cooled back to a liquid and pumped back to the evaporator to repeat the process.
  3. Reusing Industrial Wastewater
    Twenty percent of all water consumed is used for industrial purposes — a medium-sized industrial cooling tower sucks up 1.5 million gallons of fresh water each day. GE’s TrueSense technology can slash this fresh water use by up to 20% and save $400,000 annually. When we help industries use less water in the first place, there’s more fresh water available for the drinking water that we need to stay healthy.
  4. A Nuclear Reactor That Eats Its Own Waste
    GE’s Hitachi Advanced Recycling Center burns nuclear waste (even weapons-grade plutonium), and emits zero CO2. The secret? Sodium, instead high-pressure water, is used to control the nuclear reaction. Sodium cooling allows the reactor to “burn” the leftover energy in used fuel. When used fuel is removed from a traditional water-cooled reactor, 95 percent of its potential energy is still untapped.
  5. GE Hybrid Locomotive
    The Evolution Hybrid Locomotive works by capturing and storing braking energy for later use. Every time the conductor hits the brakes, ordinarily wasted braking energy goes to fueling the battery. How much energy? Turns out that the wasted braking energy of a 207-ton locomotive over the course of one year is enough to power more than 8,900 average U.S. households for a year!

For more on GE’s solutions to turn waste to energy, click here.

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