Garbage has surprising potential as fuel.
Sierra Energy is using an old blast furnace to gasify waste at 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, turning that rubbish (as well as medical refuse and construction debris) into hydrogen and carbon monoxide, otherwise known as syn gas. This, in turn, can be used to make vehicle fuel or generate electricity.
America sends nearly 70 percent of its trash to landfills, and every ton of garbage that’s buried emits a ton of greenhouse gases. Gasification, on the other hand, employs a combustion-free, closed system, so there’s no pollution, says Sierra CEO Mike Hart.
The technology isn’t new, but the application is, and the biggest fuel consumer in the country—the Department of Defense—thinks the approach is promising. It partnered with Sierra Energy to build the first commercial plant, at Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey, California, scheduled to open in 2014.
This story originally ran in the November-December 2013 issue as "One Man's Trash."