The Heap

From the Can: Fixin to Start

Once again, WasteExpo is upon us. I can practically taste the po’ boys.

One segment of the industry (of many, admittedly) that always shifts to the fore in my brain around this time of year is energy derived from waste. This is largely due to the great landfill-gas-to-energy, waste conversion and other energy content and exhibits at WasteExpo. Moreover, each year at least one person approaches me directly at the show with a very alluring pitch about the latest happenings with one waste conversion technology or another. And my first question to that person is always the same: When can I tour an operational full-scale facility?

To put it another way: when I was a kid and we were anticipating dinner at a restaurant with my grandparents or any other outing of import, my grandmother would invariably announce that she was “fixin’ to start gettin’ ready” (a common custom among southern grandmothers, I suspect). This was our warning that we still had a formidable stretch before she actually reached the point where she considered herself sufficiently put together to step out the front door and present herself to the world.

It seems to me that waste conversion has been fixin’ to start gettin’ ready for some time now. And certainly many big technological breakthroughs and business ventures go through these protracted growing pains on their way to viability. But that hasn’t stopped waste conversion’s true believers from insisting that the first full-scale implementation is right around the corner – perpetually mere months away! Inevitably the associated municipality gets cold feet, the funding dries up or some other last-minute complication intervenes and the bottom falls out. So we’re either dealing with a very big corner here or someone’s being disingenuous about the real challenges confronting waste conversion.

In “Preaching Conversion,” News Editor Allan Gerlat attempts to suss out the true state of waste conversion. By citing proponents, skeptics and those straddling the line, he gets closer to the technology’s real trajectory and what’s preventing it from realizing its full potential. It is essential reading.

Also on the topic of energy from waste, in “Rational Parks,” Bruce Clark, P.E., Shani Kruljac, and Marc Rogoff, Ph.D., of SCS Engineers look at the phenomenon of “eco-parks,” which transform brownfield sites (in many cases landfills) into hives of alternative energy production, research and green manufacturing.

As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts. You can reach me at [email protected]. And I look forward to seeing you in New Orleans!

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