Today, as I replaced my 2-year-old cellphone with a new, presumably better one, and read the admonition on the box to "properly dispose of" - i.e., recycle - the lithium ion battery - I found myself thinking about garbage; in particular, about a garbage-disposal technology that I read about recently.
Garbage, like cellphone batteries, that is technically hazardous waste, poses a persistent question: how to get rid of it? Barring not acquiring it in the first place - an option which most Americans never even consider - getting rid of household hazardous waste items like batteries, paint and old computer parts, is a bit of a nightmare.
But an interesting new technology called plasma gasification, described in this article in a recent issue of Popular Science promises to make this problem history.
By converting air - or any other stable gas - into plasma by passing an electric current through it, the device reduces almost any type of waste (nuclear waste excepted) to its molecular components, producing an obsidian-like glass byproduct, along with a syngas mixture that can be turned into hydrogen, ethanol, natural gas, or other energy-producing gases.
As a result, the converter releases energy, as well as using it up. In addition to the obvious benefits - clean disposal of dangerous waste, conservation of landfills, and the production of excess energy - the technology might even be money-making, since municipalities wouldn't have to pay for the raw materials - the garbage - only for the electricity needed to power the converter.
I think it's a brilliant idea, on the leading edge of many emerging "green" technologies that promise to turn some of the worst environmental problems on their heads. Hopefully, we'll soon have the opportunity to see it work.