What to do with all the 250 million tons of trash that arrives at U.S. landfills each year…bury it, burn it, extract the methane? These things are all being done at modern landfills, but a new partnership between Waste Management and Renmatix may allow garbage to be converted to sugars for producing biofuel.
Renmatix is an innovative company with plenty of experience turning biomass into sugars. Its patented process uses super-heated water to breakdown biomass material into its most basic components which are then used to produce biofuel and other chemicals.
With garbage aplenty across the U.S., there’s certainly no shortage of material for Renmatix to work with. Waste Management and Renmatix are currently testing various waste materials to determine what works and what doesn’t. So, one downside of this whole idea is the fact that waste may have to be separated before it can be converted to energy or biofuels.
The Renmatix supercritical hydrolysis process (super-heated water) already works efficiently on organic materials, such as woodchips. The company hopes that trash will work equally well. Testing is underway on various urban waste materials, such as construction and demolition debris, recyclables and paper waste.
Many environmentalists believe ethanol, the most common type of biofuel, is the answer to the growing greenhouse gases problem as well as the energy independence issue. It makes sense, and it’s true that biofuels can help improve both of these issues, but there are some drawbacks. The good news is that processing waste for biofuels solves most of these.
The EPA lists several potential drawbacks associated with ramping up production of biofuels in the traditional manner of turning organic matter into ethanol. For one, it would require that thousands, maybe millions, more acres of corn and other crops be planted to produce the ethanol. Planting, fertilizing, watering and processing these crops for use in biofuel comes with a considerable impact on resources and the environment.
The Renmatix and Waste Management proposed process solves this problem by bypassing the crop problem altogether. By using waste that may otherwise sit in a landfill, Renmatix will be able to produce the same type of biofuel as current technology allows but without the need for crops or excessive processing. All it needs is trash and water!
The garbage-to-ethanol process is certainly innovative but still years away from becoming a mainstream means for creating biofuel. It is, however, an efficient way to turn trash into a sustainable energy source. Other processes, such as methane extraction and trash burning, offer other ways of using garbage to produce energy.
In my opinion why should we let trash sit in a landfill and rot (literally)? Why not use it to our benefit. No one can argue that humans are wasteful, but at least today’s technology is helping to reduce our impact on the environment.