Industrial Engineering

Army seeks gas from trash


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The New York Times reported that Sierra Energy has been testing its FastOxPathfinder for several years. The U.S. Department of Defense believed these tests will provide electricity from waste and fuel for vehicles and generators. The amount bet is also huge, $3 million.

 Inside the waste gasifier, a chemical reaction heats any kind of trash to extreme temperatures without combustion. The output includes hydrogen and carbon monoxide, called syngas for synthetic gas, which can be burned to generate electricity or made into ethanol or diesel fuel. The idea was passed down from two former industrial engineers from the now bankrupt Kaiser Steel.  The engineers retired, but the grandson of one patented the idea, which is being commercialized by Sierra Energy. It should be in operation later this year at Fort Hunter Liggett, a training base in Monterey County, Calif.

So far, Defense Department tests have shown that in four hours, the FastOxPathfinder turns one ton of waste into 1,580 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which could power an average home for a month and a half, along with 42 gallons of fuel. Emissions are one-third less than power generation from coal. That gasifier can handle only 12 tons a day, but blast furnaces can handle 2,000 tons a day.