New technology could save base millions

  • Published
  • By Tech.. Sgt. Vann Miller
  • 78 ABW/PA
"All systems are green. Power core registers stable. Initiate the plasma arc!"

This techno-babble sounds like something from a science fiction movie, but the actual technology may be right around the corner for Robins.

Plasma arc technology offers environmentally-safe measures for waste disposal.

"The process can take nearly any material and convert it to energy," said Judith Middlebrooks, an engineer in the base energy office. "It uses extremely high temperatures to turn products into mostly hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Plastics are really great, but most any organic compound will work."

Base officials believe an honest look at the technology could yield possible savings in the long term. That is why engineers like Middlebrooks are currently conducting a feasibility study of the technology. They've also begun discussions with manufacturers who are on the leading-edge of the technology.

"We are currently just gathering information to see what is possible," said Middlebrooks.

The base currently spends more than $2 million annually to dispose of approximately 6,500 tons of waste, according to Susan Green, solid waste program manager in the 78th Civil Engineer Group's Environmental Management Office. The waste includes non-recyclables, non-hazardous solid waste and hazardous solid waste. It also includes disposable construction debris.

The plasma arc technology would not only help the base reduce the amount it pays each year for waste disposal, but it would likely yield clean energy - or elements - the base could use or reuse elsewhere. One is synthetic gas, which the base could use to power various things, such as heating and cooling systems, generators, and powering some vehicles. One is a compound which could be used in the construction of some roads and buildings.

The technology is promising, said Middlebrooks.

"Plasma arc is fascinating," she said. "It could also help us reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, reduce pollutant emissions, and reduce landfill space."

The technology is being tested at various locations in the U.S., including St. Lucie County in Florida. The county has teamed with developers to develop the nation's first large plasma gasification plant, which will generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.

The technology has been widely used for about 10 years in Europe and Japan.

Robins started evaluating the technology as a way to help its waste reduction efforts here after learning about it from another base, according to Nancy Manley, director of the 78th Civil Engineer Group's Asset Management Division.

The base has since learned, if the technology is used here, Robins could produce more energy than the amount of energy it would cost to operate the system.

"It certainly looks exciting at this time," she said.