Create energy and fuel from waste material. Create ethanol from wood waste and use it to power vehicles. Produce bottles from plant-based materials. While each of those goals sounds like the stuff of science fiction, I have been interested to see news of each application recently—and to think about the potential impact and cost savings of each for the supply chain.
So for starters, consider Advanced Plasma Power (APP), a U.K.-based company that provides waste-to-energy and fuels technology. The company takes waste material—ranging from municipal solid waste that includes household waste, commercial waste and even hazardous and special wastes—and then uses its advanced gasification technologies to produce a clean synthesis gas directly from the waste. According to APP, use of its Gasplasma technology conversion delivers clean, hydrogen-rich synthesis gas (syngas), which can be used to generate electricity directly in gas engines and turbines to generate power, and it also can be converted into substitute natural gas, hydrogen or liquid fuels.
The price of converting syngas into hydrogen is lower than the cost of converting natural gas into hydrogen, Rolf Stein, APP CEO, recently wrote in IndustryWeek. Furthermore, in many cases, the overall cost of using a waste-to-energy and fuels plant to generate hydrogen will be significantly lower and more predictable than the cost of using natural gas and steam reformation. The result is that companies will be able to comply with a progressively challenging regulatory environment as well as act on their corporate and social responsibility targets, Stein says.
In other news, The New York Times reports that INEOS Bio, a subsidiary of the European oil and chemical company INEOS, has produced commercial quantities of cellulosic ethanol from wood waste and other nonfood vegetative matter at its Indian River BioEnergy Center in Vero Beach, Fla. If the process can be expanded economically, it has major implications for providing vehicle fuel and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
The process begins with wastes—wood and vegetative matter for now, municipal garbage later—and cooks it into a gas of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, the NYT article explains. Bacteria eat the gas and excrete alcohol, which is then distilled. If ethanol can be produced at reasonable cost from abundant nonfood sources, like yard trimmings or household trash, it could displace fuel made from oil, and that oil—and its carbon—could stay in the ground, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the article reports.
Finally, the Coca-Cola Company and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced new global environmental goals and an expanded global partnership earlier this month. These goals, which complement other Coca-Cola well-being and community commitments, focus on sustainable management of water, energy and packaging use as well as sustainable sourcing of agricultural ingredients through 2020.
There are numerous goals but the one I’m most interested in is to continue to responsibly source material for Coke’s PlantBottle packaging. Traditional PET plastic is made using fossil fuels such as petroleum. PlantBottle, on the other hand, is made with a combination of traditional materials and up to 30 percent made from plants. The end product is still PET plastic, so the PlantBottle package delivers the same performance (e.g. shelf life, recyclability, weight, chemical composition and appearance) but it reduces potential carbon dioxide emissions from PET plastic bottles and dependence on fossil fuels when compared to traditional PET plastic, according to Cocoa-Cola.
I think each of the developments offers considerable potential. They certainly each demonstrate what’s possible, in any event. While there are potential cost savings from each that companies could realize, the larger issue is that of corporate and social responsibility. So in the long run, we all can benefit from these type endeavors.