Garbage power gains fans as oil price soars

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Garbage power gains fans as oil price soars

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In this era of volatile oil prices, the idea of obtaining energy from garbage and trash is not only attractive but increasingly competitive with more traditional energy sources. Some local governments here already use the methane gas produced by garbage buried at landfills to power the trucks that collect the garbage, and others are eyeing similar plans. Chuncheon city in Gangwon province and the Environmental Management Corp. said they would operate 80 methane-powered garbage trucks using gas from a 16.6-hectare (41-acre) landfill near the city. The gas produced at the site, officials estimate, could power all 80 garbage trucks for about a decade. “We estimate that installing facilities and refitting the garbage trucks will cost us about 4 billion won ($3.8 million),” said Shin Dong-seok, an employee of Environmental Management Corp. “But because it only costs us about a fifth of the price of gasoline to produce the methane, the initial investment will be recovered quickly.” Managers at Sudokwon Landfill Site Management Corp. are building a plant to generate electricity from the gas generated at a landfill near Seoul, where about 20,000 tons of food waste from Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi province are added daily. The plant will produce 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 180,000 households. The company boasts that the output will be the world’s largest from a single plant of its type. “The waste accumulated at a single site from 21 million people makes it easier for us to generate a large amount of energy,” said Cho Dong-il of the corporation. The Cheongra incinerator in Incheon city is taking advantage of the heat that can be generated from 450 tons of trash per day. The trash is burned and generates steam to power an 1,800-kilowatt turbine generator to produce electricity. Some of the steam is also routed to a nearby greenhouse where tropical plants are grown. Overall in Korea, that use of methane gas and incinerated trash makes up about 70 percent of Korea’s production from renewable energy sources, which include things like solar, wind or tidal power sources. The government hopes to make those renewable sources the source of 5 percent of Korea’s electricity consumption by 2011, up from 2.3 percent last year. Such power plants are now operating in 10 landfills across Korea, producing just under 29 megawatts of electricity per day. Another 53 megawatts of production capacity is under construction in three other areas. The Environment Ministry estimated that the 35 incinerators on those 10 landfill sites produced 95 billion won in profits last year from the energy generated by burning trash. A survey by the ministry showed that the incinerators recycled 88 percent of the heat produced by burning trash, enough to keep 300,000 average-size apartments cozy. About three-quarters of the heat generated is used by local governments’ steam heat distribution facilities. But experts say more could be done, and that some facilities use less than 70 percent of the available heat given off by trash incinerators. The ministry says it is planning more facilities with higher efficiency in trapping and reusing heat. A member of a private group advocating recycling was still a bit dissatisfied with that solution, saying his group wanted to see recycling of trash done first, with only the remainder sent to the incinerators. Other activists argue that the Korea Electric Power Corp., which buys electricity from private producers, should revamp its purchase price system, which pays according to production costs. Mr. Cho from the landfill management company said, “Kepco at present pays 716 won per kilowatt-hour for solar energy and 108 won for wind power, but for power from trash, the corporation pays only 61 to 65 won.” by Kang Chan-su

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