*Above | The Thilafushi land fill in the Maldives represents an opportunity to Vortios
Waste is a problem of unprecedented proportions. Our planet is being polluted with substances that have long bio-degradation lifecycles, and more of it is being produced all of the time. Plastic is the prime example of this and it is no exaggeration to say that, as a race, we are at the tipping point with regards to the threat that plastic poses.
The perception when faced with a problem of this scale is that some kind of technological leap is required to solve the problem – but what if the solution has been there all along?
Rekindling an old idea
Originally invented in the 1930s cyclonic thermal-destruction is a tried and tested concept that draws on the principles of particle combustion to incinerate a variety of materials. It was subsequently commercialised in the 1950s as the basis for coal-fired power stations. Radical improvements in the design in the 1960s achieved significant increases in combustion efficiency.
Unfortunately, due to certain commercial and strategic hindrances the concept has lain dormant for nearly half a century. Until now that is. UK-based energy efficiency experts Vortios has resurrected the original cyclonic thermal-destruction concept and spent the last three years continuing the research of combustion efficiency on a range of materials. And the technology is becoming more efficient, meaning the latest incarnation can burn plastic, rubber, medical waste and a host of other bio organic materials with near zero emissions. This mid-sized waste-to-energy system is modular, scaleable and easily deployed. It’s also environmentally friendly and capable of sustaining its own operation continuously on land or at sea. It produces no pollutants and almost no residue as part of the burning process.
Turning a negative into a positive
Humanity is facing a crisis of its own making. Continuous global economic development, urbanisation and ever-increasing consumerism have combined to create a serious problem: huge amounts of waste, inadequate disposal, and subsequent pollution.
The question of waste, its impact on our ecosystems has become headline news. Therefore, the threat has entered public consciousness like never before, motivating changes in government policy and consumer behaviour. Plastic waste and its catastrophic impact on our oceans and rivers has attracted the most attention.
The problem is not limited to a single material or a specific location, although plastic has some distinct properties that make its disposal problematic. Plastic is produced in different forms, having subtle but significant differences in its chemical composition and thereby suitability for recycling. Recycling cannot be done in a consistent way and is often uneconomic.
It has an incredibly long biodegradation lifecycle, measured in centuries, but it does degrade enough to make it, in some cases, impossible to recycle and small enough to enter the food chain. Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated that shellfish consumers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year. An alarming study by Plymouth University reported that plastic was found in one-third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. The impact of eating plastic on humans is not well understood and it may be too late to act when we eventually do come to understand it.
One property of plastic provides a huge opportunity: as it is derived from crude oil and other combustible organic materials, it has a substantial calorific value. Burning it cleanly, with the Vortios system, can produce a mass of thermal and electrical energy.
Beyond the oceans
Waste pollution is not limited to plastic or the ocean. The opportunities to deploy Vortios thermal waste destruction technology and produce clean energy are broad and varied, with both humanitarian and commercial applications.For instance, many countries are facing a crisis of increasing urbanisation, consumerism and an exponential growth of waste generation. Human generated waste is forming landfills of unprecedented size. Lagos, Las Vegas, Mexico City, Mumbai all have extreme examples. Las Vegas, has a 2,200-acre site that accepts 9,000 tons of new waste per day, but with just under 80% of waste still going straight to landfill, the problem affects us all. Island nations face unique and acute challenges when it comes to energy needs. The Maldives, for example, has very little natural resources from which to create energy of its own and is susceptible to oil price fluctuations. Yet, the artificial island, Thilafushi, acts as a municipal landfill, that presents an obvious opportunity for converting waste into much needed energy.
Specialist landfills such as that in Kuwait City’s Sulaibiya area provide a stark reminder of our impact on the planet from a single product, car tyres. The landfill is visible from space and continues to grow. Yet, tyres have a higher calorific value than coal when burnt. Hospitals have specific waste disposal challenges, typically state or charity funded institutions, that have to operate 24/7 within tight budgets, the Vortios waste-to-energy system can provide them with a unique opportunity to turn waste to heat and energy to serve the hospital’s needs. Smart City initiatives around the world are in the design or development stage, with the aim to provide eco-friendly urban environments. Vortios can speed this process by turning waste disposal into clean energy. Vortios can also help right across manufacturing. For example, the automobile industry produces by-products of their output, such as auto frag. The Vortios waste-to-energy system can convert an otherwise useless waste product to clean, free energy for the manufacturing process.
Waste generation and disposal is now one of the most urgent ecological challenges faced by mankind. The Vortios thermal destruction technology and its waste-to-energy system can address the source and its outcome.
The Vortios ambition is to deploy these easily transportable and assembled systems to landfills, factories, hospitals, islands, oceans and rivers all over the world. It can then facilitate the clean-up of pollution and help society to stay in control of the ongoing disposal. Behavioural change and government policy are still extremely important to address this existential threat. But Vortios has a team of talented engineers and the support of an influential business community, all of whom want to play a part in leaving a lasting legacy – a better and cleaner planet for generations to come.