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MARCH 30, 2004


            The City Department of Environmental Services (ENV) will present its findings regarding plasma arc/plasma torch technologies and recommendations for landfill reduction at this week’s Public Works and Economic Development Committee hearing, March 31, at 2:30 pm.

             Frank Doyle, the department’s director, led the team of engineers and consultants who evaluated the proposals for plasma arc/torch facilities submitted to the City.  “After thorough evaluations, including intensive meetings with the proposers to review technical components of their plans, we concluded that utilizing plasma arc/torch would significantly increase the cost of waste disposal for Oahu and would not provide any environmental advantages to justify such cost.”

             Advocates of plasma arc/torch promised comparable or lower costs than H-POWER, increased environmental benefits and a facility that could process everything with no residue to the landfill – making the need for landfilling obsolete.  The information gathered in the RFP (request for proposals) process did not support those claims. 

  •  The costs proposed were twice that of traditional waste-to-energy (WTE).  
  •  There were no environmental advantages related to lower emissions or higher energy production – air emissions and energy production would be similar to WTE.
  • Proposals required the use of additional fuels – plasma arc uses coke and plasma torch uses both coke and coal – in order to maintain the base heat, which contributes to the higher operating cost and depletion of non-renewable fuel resources.
  • Landfilling of residues, or slag, would still be necessary.  Proposals included intentions to reuse the residues, but there was insufficient evidence of feasibility.  The largest operational facility in Japan is landfilling the residue from the plant, and thus far there is no evidence that the residue material has been accepted for use or application by any business or operation.
  • Plasma arc technology applied to solid waste is still in a research and development stage, raising significant questions of reliability.  The current state of the technology poses potential high risks of interrupted service operations due to technical complications.    The Eco Valley facility in Utashinai is the largest and has a design capacity of 166 tons per day. The facility is presently running at half capacity and has not produced power for sale on a consistent basis.   All other plasma arc facilities are small capacity demonstration types for disposal of hazardous materials.  There are no plasma arc facilities of reasonable capacity, such as the 100,000 tons-per-year facility proposed for Honolulu, operating commercially anywhere in the world. 
  • Plasma torch technology has been primarily used in the metals smelting industry.  The Ibaraki plasma torch facility in Japan burns approximately 50% coke and coal and 50% municipal solid waste.  The use of coke and coal in substantial quantities does not reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increases the potential for green house gas emissions.  While there are a few small, 25-ton-per-day and less facilities in Japan, larger facilities are at best in the proposal stage.  Other companies who proposed similar smelting technology for the disposal of municipal solid waste on a commercial basis have not been successful. 

             The briefing will continue beyond plasma arc to present to the Council the department’s recommendations for landfill reduction by increased recycling opportunities, the expansion of H-POWER and the utilization of best available alternative disposal technologies.



Tuesday, March 30, 2004

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