Garbage Fuel: Just like in the Movies

Remember the last scene of Back to the Future when Doc Brown returns in his flying DeLorian to take Marty to the year 2015? As a 5 year old kid in 1985 I still remember being fascinated, not only because the car was flying, but because the new DeLorian was powered by garbage instead of plutonium. At the time I didn’t even know what plutonium was. But garbage fuel – now that was a cool concept.

In 2008, people are finally starting to work on garbage-powered aviation. The Solena Group, a Washington DC company that builds and operates renewable energy power plants in North America, Asia and Europe, has started work on a facility that will produce jet fuel from trash, tree bark and manure using a process called plasma gasification. It uses 5000-degree plasma arcs to break trash into gas fuel, which is then converted into liquid suitable for powering an airplane.

The plasma gasification and the gas-to-liquid conversion processes will release significant amounts of CO2 into the environment, but the company claims that the CO2 does much less harm to the environment than emissions created by decomposing landfill waste and reliance on petroleum based aviation fuel. (According to the Department of Transportation, aviation accounts for 2.7 percent of U.S. annual greenhouse gas output.) Also, energy generated from the plasma arcs is used to power the system, which makes it self-sustaining.

Solena plans to build its plant in Gilroy, California, (home of the famous Gilroy Garlic Festival) where it will have access to a steady stream of household trash from Norcal Waste Systems, a big California garbage collection company.

The Company won’t begin production until 2011, despite some U.S. biofuel tax credits being scheduled to expire in 2008. Also, no commercial airlines have expressed interest in the project. But if prices of fuel keep going up there could be some significant interest by 2015, and maybe Back to the Future director/writer Robert Zemeckis will turn out to be a true science visionary, not just a great Sci-Fi creator.


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