A new kind of wood; and energizing trash

A couple of things. I have a column today that looks at a small B.C.-based company called JER Envirotech, which makes a wood-plastic composite that can be used to replace wood/plywood in building construction and a slew of other applications, from the making of toys and furniture to parts for vehicles. The attraction? The material resists moisture, bugs, rot, mould, and warping. It can be recycled and made into other products. It uses wood waste, not trees, and uses far less than your typical panel board or plywood. It costs more, but like compact fluorescent bulbs the return on investment comes with its longevity. Anyway, worth a look… I know there are other companies playing in this field but JER appears to have a unique approach.

My Clean Break podcast this week is an interview with Rod Bryden, CEO of Plasco Energy Group, which is building an energy-from-waste pilot plant in Ottawa that, if it works, could set the stage for larger projects across Ontario. Bryden talks about the technology and attempts to address the concerns of some environmentalists.

7 thoughts on “A new kind of wood; and energizing trash”

  1. Regarding your podcast on plasma waste disposal… it does seem like very promising technology and this company has a slightly different, possibly more economical, solution than others I have read about.

    However, I think many of the environmental objections to this sort of processing have to do with the solid waste which is produced, and that was all but glossed over in the interview. The glass like material that is produced is where many of the nasty things like heavy metals will reside. There are questions as to whether the varying composition of waste streams will result in a material which is always stable, impervious to leaching, cracking etc. The claim by the company was that this material has many uses. What are these uses and have a sufficiently large sampling of the waste “glass” been tested for safety and suitability for these uses? If you get a chance to follow up at some future time, I hope you ask these questions.

  2. Plasco’s solid waste has been independently tested for leaching. The tests showed that less leaching occurs than from plastics used for soft drink packaging. That had me thinking a lot about packaging!

  3. Yeah… makes me glad I don’t drink soda.

    But one question I would have is how much testing has been done. I’m pretty certain that one could construct an artificial batch of garbage where the residue solid was not a nice glass like substance. That raises the question of how they guarantee that too much of really nasty things like lead, cadmium or maybe even radionuclides aren’t mixed in and that enough stuff like glass is mixed in to assure the consistency of the residue. This thing doesn’t perform magic. If you fed it 500 pounds of rusty nails and a few old lead acid batteries, you’re not getting glass out of it. In fact you’d get lead contaminated iron as the solid.

    It still might be a manageable waste stream since the amount of solid is greatly reduced… but until I hear more, I’m very skeptical that there will be commercial uses for the residue solid.

  4. From what I understand the residue is pre-sorted, and most metals are taken out with a special magnetic device. I believe a majority of the waste is organic solids, non-recyclabe plastics and woody/fibre materials. Whatever gets by pre-sorting and the magnet is separated out from the gas stream and, I suppose, ends up in the slag or ashe that results. I agree, however, with this kind of technology you can never have enough independent verification/testing of operations and end emissions and substances.

  5. Ok… here is how i understand it…

    the plasco system is “smart”. It uses a secondary “high carbon” stream made up of unrecylable waste and a sophisticated software system to regulate its stream. This way, it can deal with fluctuations in the primary waste stream’s content.

    That said, you are right. This system can’t perform magic. I believe that heavy metals that aren’t safely entrained in the residual solid are removed using activated carbon that is then sent for controlled displosal. The way I see it, this stuff should not have been in the waste stream to begin with (batteries, thermometers, CFL bulbs, etc..) so this system just sees to it that these things don’t sit in landfills and cause problems. Anyway, I think it amounts to something like 0.001% of the volume of waste processed.

  6. It is certainly interesting technology, and I will be especially curious to start hearing about results from real world operation. I believe a reasonable sized plasma facility (though not necessarily Plasco technology) is going online in FL where they plan to actually dig up an old land fill as well as feeding ongoing waste stream.

    It is certainly valid to say that heavy metals should not make it into the normal waste stream. However, I still think that may be a big barrier to the adoption of the solid byproduct for any commercial use. If I were running a company that were considering using this glass material for construction or some other purpose I would want a very solid answer to the question… what if some knuckle head finds a big box of old mercury thermometers and decides to just toss it in the trash. Saying that the waste is 99.999% safe means something entirely different if there is a chance all the bad stuff gets concentrated in a handful of the output that ends up being one square foot of my kitchen counter (as an extreme example). It would not matter to me that 10,000 other people got shiny black counter tops with no contamination.

    Having said that, this technology might make economic and environmental sense even without a use for the byproduct. It would still dramatically reduce the waste stream needing to be buried.

  7. I agree, this is very interesting technology. Certainly something to keep an eye out for in the near future. I was prompted to search for other related info on Plasco and found this neat video on the company website-it’s worth a look and I think it answers some questions regarding what happens to dangerous materials like mercury.

    Here is the link: http://www.plascoenergygroup.com/?Media_Centre#Animated-Video

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