The days of Old Crow disposing of its trash in a burning vessel are coming to an end.
By mid-April, municipal waste will instead be loaded into a newfangled gadget that, if it works as promised, will gobble up garbage while producing few nasty emissions.
Or at least that’s the pitch made by Rod Taylor, CEO of Waste to Energy Canada, which recently won the $563,000 contract to wean Old Crow off burning its waste.
“There’s less carbon dioxide coming out of that flue than there would be if you just had that garbage in the landfill, and it would be gassing off over time,” said Taylor.
Garbage left to rot also produces a lot of methane, which Taylor calls the “killer greenhouse gas.”
“And there’s no methane coming out of this thing,” he said.
Taylor formerly ran Uncommon Journeys, a high-end ecotourism outfit in the Yukon. He also made an unsuccessful bid for the Yukon Party leadership last spring.
Now he’s on to his next big idea: turning garbage into a renewable source of electricity.
The Old Crow unit won’t actually do this. The small, remote community doesn’t produce enough waste to warrant generating power in the process.
But the gizmo should help the territorial government meet its goal of weaning each community off the open burning of garbage by the end of 2012. And it ought to eliminate 1.5 metric tonnes of waste in Old Crow each day “in a safe and green way,” said Taylor.
It’s not an incinerator. Instead, the gadget burns garbage with a process called gasification.
It starts by cooking garbage at a low heat. “It’s an oxygen-starved burn, so it smoulders,” said Taylor. As a result, bits of trash vapourize to become synthetic gas.
That gas is later used to blast the remaining garbage at high temperatures, in excess of 1300C, “which is so hot it destroys the majority of the bad stuff,” said Taylor.
“You’re left with this incredibly clean heat. And a little bit of really bad stuff – things like mercury, the elements of the periodic table that you can’t destroy.”
Those nasty bits are then filtered out through the exhaust “so that at the end of the day, all that comes out of the flue is essentially carbon dioxide,” said Taylor.
The invention, for all its big promises, has a humble appearance. Its frame consists of two 12-metre-long Sea-Can containers, allowing the machine to be easily shipped.
Assembly is simple, said Taylor.
“They’ll bolt this thing together and the next day they can be gasifying waste,” he said.
After the device is built in Bellingham, Washington, it’ll be barged from Seattle to Anchorage, trucked to Fairbanks and flown on a Hercules aircraft to Old Crow.
The gasifier should be able to eat “just about everything, truthfully,” said Taylor.
In Iceland, a similar machine has consumed reindeer guts, fiberglass boats and outdated computers, he said.
Whole tires are no problem. It should be able to handle some big appliances, too.
“It won’t take a refrigerator with freon but it’ll do a stove no problem. And at the end of the day, all the plastics will have been melted off and you’ll be left with sterile metal.”
And what metal and glass remains after a burn can be recycled, said Taylor.
It can also do medical waste. Old Crow could even feed it sewage if the human waste were first spun through a centrifuge to suck out water. “The poop that’s left over is an incredible feedstock,” said Taylor.
Waste to Energy Canada is a small, Vancouver-based startup and the Old Crow contract is the first of its kind it has landed. But a similar setup is found in the remote Alaskan community of Egegik.
That gasifier was built by the same technology used by Waste to Energy Canada. Taylor has since bought the patents.
For the past 15 years, Egegik’s salmon cannery has been powered by the gasifier, said Taylor.
“It’s amazing. It’s been working there that long and they don’t have any issues. And it’s a very similar community to a place like Old Crow.”
Taylor envisions similar units being used by other remote communities and mining camps.
His company has also been hired to build a bigger waste-to-energy project for the Kelly Lake Metis in B.C. That ought to dispose of 400 metric tonnes per day, and supplying the machine is worth “tens of millions of dollars,” said Taylor.
The company also has potential contracts lined up in Russia and Poland. Taylor anticipates the company, which currently has “about 10 guys on our payroll” to soon be “growing exponentially.
“We’re on the cusp of blossoming. By about April 30, we’ll have a couple major contracts.”
And, in the Yukon, Taylor has his eyes on the possibility of building a waste-energy plant for Whitehorse. The territorial government recently sought expressions of interest and Waste to Energy has responded.
One concern about gasification is that it may undermine recycling by giving residents a clear conscience to chuck everything in the garbage bin.
“We don’t want this technology to replace doing the right thing, which is the three Rs,” said Taylor.
Gasifiers can also be finicky and complicated to operate. Yukon College had one installed in its basement two decades ago. But this machine, installed at great expense, has only been made to run in experiments.
Old Crow’s gasifier is a “completely different” design, said Taylor. After two weeks of training, a heavy equipment operator ought to be able to run it, he said.
The computer system is designed to talk its operator through how to run it, said Taylor. And he’s considering having a web camera installed so that “on my iPhone, I’ll be able to watch the guys working in the plant, real-time.”
All these plans ought to keep Taylor busy. But he hasn’t abandoned his political aspirations.
“There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t wish that I was in that legislature, doing something on behalf of Yukoners. It’s still my dream that some day I’ll have a chance to get involved. That’s where my heart is.”
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