Thursday afternoon at Clean Tech 2007

After an overpriced lunch which was redeemed by the interesting company, it was time for the afternoon sessions.  I only got good notes on two of the speakers, but man, one of them was a doozy!

Bill Davis, Ze-Gen

The 2 PM session began with what may be the biggest non-traditional concept for the next ten years, Ze-Gen.  Bill Davis ran through the potential of waste gasification for us.

The untapped potential is enormous.  The current electric production from waste is less than 3800 megawatts (not sure if this is USA or worldwide).  The potential is closer to 110 GW (110,000 MW) and $26 billion/year.  It also reduces the environmental cost of transport, and something like 1.8 tons of CO2 equivalent per ton of waste processed (including fugitive methane emissions from landfills).  Depending on the policy details, there may also be renewable energy credits available (people differ on the renewability of waste).

A flow of 450 tons/day of waste (I did ask about the time units) can yield a continuous 30 megawatts of electricity.  The first systems will not process municipal solid waste (MSW), but construction and demolition (C&D) debris.  This is a much less troublesome feedstock because it is drier and far less variable.  Construction debris is taken through transfer stations where it is processed to remove materials like ferrous metals; what's left after the shredding and sorting process is a prepared fuel.  Other companies have tried to tackle MSW first, and failed to overcome all the difficulties involved.  Davis intends to pick the low-hanging fruit first.

The Ze-Gen reactor bears a familial resemblance to other, older metal-handling furnaces.  It contains a pool of molten iron through which waste, air and steam are blown.  The combustible parts of the waste are pyrolized and the remaining carbon reacts with iron oxide to make iron and carbon monoxide.  The steam reacts with iron to make iron oxide and hydrogen, and the non-combustible portions of the waste melt to slag.  Once frozen, the slag is deemed "non-leachable" by the EPA and can be used as aggregate or disposed of in unlined (cheap) landfills.  This can be an enormous cost advantage over conventional disposal.

The primary product of the reactor is a syngas, composed largely of carbon monoxide and hydrogen but also containing carbon dioxide, other trace gases and contaminants.  Per Davis, the primary toxic contaminants are mercury from MSW (batteries and fluorescent bulbs, I guess) and arsenic from C&D debris (probably from CCA-treated lumber).

One of the byproducts of the process is metal, absorbed into the melt from the iron and steel remaining in the shredded debris.  This metal is worth approximately $170/ton.  Davis didn't talk about value-added processing, but I wonder if it might not be possible to continuously cast bar stock from the excess metal tapped off the melt.

When tipping fees, slashed disposal fees and energy and materials sales are considered, this technology has the potential to pay off big.  Davis said there is the potential for a 60% internal rate of return.  He mentioned licensing to vertical industries (the details of which I've forgotten).

There are still some hurdles involved:

  • Behavior modification is tough.
  • There's the public impression that Waste-To-Energy = Incineration = Smokestacks = Pollution.  Convincing people otherwise is an uphill battle.
  • The public may also be convinced that recycling is always the answer, even when ultimately consumes more energy.  Overcoming this could be difficult.

I don't recall Davis mentioning this during his talk, but one of the features of the molten-iron processes is that the carbon-reacting and hydrogen-generation phases of the process can be alternated, and the process can be tuned to adjust the composition of the syngas.  This may allow e.g. the production of hydrogen for industrial purposes while the carbon is routed elsewhere, perhaps even to sequestration.  The conversion of waste into an energy source and a carbon sink is one of the most tantalizing possibilities of Ze-Gen.

Sajeeta Kumar, Nanoexa

The last session where I picked up anything significant was presented by Sajeeta Kumar of Nanoexa.

Kumar spoke on batteries and clean cars.  He noted that hybrid-car manufacturers are moving from NiMH to lithium ion cells for cost reasons alone.  The safety issues with the classic cobalt-oxide cells have been solved.

Traction batteries are still small potatoes.  The Li-ion market is currently dominated by cell phones, which constitute roughly half the total market.  Power tools are a rapidly growing segment, but still small at about 5%.  Hybrid vehicles aren't even a visible presence yet.

Toyota is moving fast, and is going to change this.

He went over the trend in capacity for the standard 18650 cell.  The curve has risen from a bit under 1000 mAh/cell in 1992 to the technology limit for LiCoO2 of ~2600 mAh/cell in 2006.  New cathode and anode technologies promise to push this to ~3000 mAh/cell in 2008.  (Unfortunately, the graph ended there.)

Future improvements depend upon:

  • High-capacity anodes
  • High-capacity cathodes
  • New electrolytes
  • Safety technology

Nanoexa's contribution is a polymer-electrode cell.  He drew a comparison between 18650 cells used in power tools, which I shall try to reproduce here.

Property Company A Company B Nanoexa
Li(Ni-Mn-Co)O2 LiCoO2 +
Cell Type 18650 18650 18650
Weight 44 gm 46 gm 43.3 gm
Capacity 1030 mAh
At 10 C
1300 mAh
At 10 C
1700 mAh
At 10 C
Std. Operating
4.2 V - 2.5 V 4.2 V - 2.5 V 4.2 V - 2.5 V
Energy density 220 Wh/l 260 Wh/l 339 Wh/l
Power density 1200 W/kg
1400 W/kg
1800 W/kg
Cycle life 500 700 > 900

Nanoexa's technology looks considerably better than the reference companies (though perhaps not so good for cycle life and lifetime kWh thoughput compared to e.g. A123Systems or AltairNano).  900 cycles is about two and a half years of use at one cycle per day (PHEV), or six months at five cycles per day (professional power tools).

What are the prospects for Nanoexa?  I can't tell you.  I dodged out to catch a presentation which turned out to be about natural-gas conversions of diesel engines (a questionable effort in an era of shrinking NG supplies), so if Kumar had any durability comparisons to LiFePO4 or the lithium titanium spinel electrodes, I missed them.  But if these units have a high enough scrap value to be cheap to exchange, Nanoexa could have a future helping to replace gasoline with electricity.

And that's all I had time for.  I seldom see such concentrations of capability and intelligence, and I can only hope that what comes out of these gatherings is at all close to the potential I felt.

Sounds like a great set of talks and presentations....thanks for the update.

You know, it's kind of funny that when folks like myself (and others, the recent BenjaminCole issue comes to mind) speak of such things as waste recapture, recycling, methane recapture, etc. here on TOD, we are immediately descended upon by the doom wolves, and ripped to shreds, but when it comes from presentations and speeches, which often seem to vindicate what we were trying to say, then of course it's a viable option. It makes me think of the great joke in the old "Frazier" TV show, in which Niles was recounting something a psychologist had recently said to him:
"Well, of course, dad always said that too, but then, he had no credentials."

(brief aside: same is true with the advances in solar PV and concentrating solar, and batteries. Folks around here seem now to be making the greatest possible effort to refuse, right into the tide of facts, the absolutely revolutionary things that are happening in those industries, so great is the....what would you call it, need(?) for catastrophe and collapse)

When many of these "we're out in xxxx years" scenarios are given for various materials, the possibility of recycling and waste recapture are dismissed in most of the calculations. But of course it can be done in many industries and in energy on a back scale. The lack of methane recapture worldwide for just one example, will someday in a time of even greater shortage be viewed not as just careless but an outright crime by this generation, given that we know how to do it, we just refuse to.

Thanks for all time and attention.

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Å lot of "technical" fixes are not very appealing, notably all sorts of biofuels. However, I have heard of these waste recycling systems before, and the solar guys say that there are big advances coming for solar. If you can increase solar efficiency by 2x (12% to 25%) and reduce cost/square foot by 75% -- both entirely possible in my mind and I'm told this is coming soon -- then you end up with 8x more cost-efficient solar power. At that point, you would just cover roofs everywhere with solar panels. Batteries are really the weak link in solar systems, but a mass grid-tie system could help eliminate that problem. That, combined with a 50% reduction in electricty use (not very difficult), and our so-called problems would be largely solved.

The main problem is that gasoline and electricity are still too cheap.

I can't quite see how tying into a grid would do much for storage unless you mean some sort of centralized storage that would not be economical on an individual producer scale. Having a whole pile of houses tied together in the middle of the night won't help much.

Storage seems like a bigger problem, er 'issue', than generation at the moment. Less glamorous in some ways but just as necessary. In Spain they were pumping water back uphill which had the added benefit of not extracting the irrigation water for electricity generation. There was a big installation going in near Almeria circa 1992. Wonder how it worked out. Almeria has almost constant sunshine, well in the daytime anyway.

What would be wrong with a giant lead acid setup which at least utilized the hydrogen gassing off to regenerate some of the thermal losses? I know, who'd want to work there in a plant full of sulphuric acid, hydrogen, pure O2 and lead? But then compared to a cracker at a refinery or a nuke plant...

Storage of solar energy isn't an issue until over 20% of our electricity is solar. Up from none today. Solar is a peaker meaning it produces the most power on those hot summer day in which the air conditioning loads are the highest. I have no clue what to do then. Maybe I'll be dead. Produce 80% of our electricity some other way? Come up with efficient storage?

The round trip efficiency of electricity to hydrogen to electricity is 7%. You'll ruin your expensive batteries to produce cheap hydrogen.

True only because we do heating by, surprise, burning oil or gas, and in about the least efficient way possible. Basically, we make heat at about 2,000+ degrees within a furnace, and then dilute it down to 72F in a house, wasting the vast majority of the useful work that the fuel can accomplish. Heat pumps are better, but then there we are. Peak heating is in the dead of night, in winter, exactly when there isn't much solar.

Of course, something like this waste conversion could help immensely with that problem. By turning waste streams into fuel that can be stored until needed, the difficulties are dramatically reduced, just use solar when the sun shines, burn your fuel when it doesn't.

Even then, it'll work, but I"m not sure it's that ideal. Fuel shortages would be a chronic problem, as we'd probably want to use at least 30% of our energy when the sun isn't shining. Given that around 10% of the planet currently lives comfortably, and we will either run low on fuel, or be unable to use it due to GW, we will either need to be making less than (say...) 10% of our energy from carbon based sources, or convince 90% of the planet that they should stay poor, I vote for the former.

If only we had something that could generate baseline power continuously, all the time, and use it for something like 40-50% of our energy needs. Something like, say, nuclear?

Certainly solar would be helpful, but doesn't it seem strange that we're spending immense sums of money, and betting the farm on new technologies that should come out of the lab "in a few years" just so that by 2030 we can be where France was in 1985 using (at the time) 30 year old technology.

slaphappy - "If only we had something that could generate baseline power continuously, all the time, and use it for something like 40-50% of our energy needs. Something like, say, nuclear?"

Even better if we had a proven method of storing the spent nuclear fuel or even a method to stop people from turning the nuclear fuel cycle into weapons.

Round trip cycle efficiency (real world) for Bath County Pumped Storage is 81% (up from 80% after improvements).

Best Hopes,


The round trip efficiency of electricity to hydrogen to electricity is 7%.
Where on earth do you get this number.? Using currently available commercial technology it is easily 30%, and best available technology is >50%.

This is where the 7% number came from. I'm not surprised the best available commercial technology can do better but it was the only number I knew.

70% is a more reasonable efficiency for an electrolyzer.  Vehicular use requires considerable energy for compression; I recall a figure around 20% for this, so the total production efficiency of compressed hydrogen is (.7/1.2)=58%.  A 40%-efficient PEM FC yields throughput of about 23%.  Power conditioning will cut the yield from the AC line further.

Li-ion batteries are about 90% efficient, so they can yield about 4 times as much useful work per unit of input as a hydrogen system; on top of that, we already have all the infrastructure we'll need for years.  Hydrogen is a boondoggle.

We just need the litium...

Certainly, in the UK the single biggest hurdle for any waste to energy system is the public perception that it is going back to the bad old days of the 70's waste incineration plants.

If you tried to site a new waste gasification facility anywhere in the UK the NIMBY's would do their level best to ensure it never passed the planning stage.

Indeed NIMBY's are now such a problem in progressing anything in the UK, that the govenment are in the process of trying to throw the system out. Sorry, I should have said "simplify" the system.

If they get their way local residents will only be able to complain about new construction if it directly effects their well being, so no complaining about wind turbines if you demonstratively can't hear them.

It should help to make the licensing of the next generation of nukes a breeze.


Thanks for the efforts, Engineer.

I assume that the presenter subtracted all the emergy these "waste" materials contained.

Because, as you know, it would be considered thermodynamic cheating to say that this waste stream somehow constituted a new "source" of energy.

It's like this. You use fifty gallons of energy equivalent to make, let's say, a small powerboat. This includes all the processes of mining, transportation of raw materials, manufacture, feeding the workers, transporting the workers, building the factory, building the roads to the factory, building the electrical lines to the factory etc. Now the boat represents fifty gallons of spent fuel. A lot of this energy must have been expended as waste. There is no possibility of any product representing 100 percent of the energy used to make it.

You then run it through the process you described above. It produces energy because there is embodied energy available. You must, of course, subtract any energy inputs from the building of the plant and the running of the plant. So. Of the original 50 gallons of embodied energy, you get, what? One gallon?

Okay. So, what we have here is a ridiculously elaborate method of recycling. You might claim we are recycling energy. I would argue that if you took the small power boat and refurbished it at a much smaller energy cost, you would effectively save the emergy of building a completely new boat which would equal a savings of 50 gallons of energy equivalent minus the energy cost of the refurbishing.

Now, one can look at this "solution" in two additional ways:

First: Let's say we decide to use it as is. We could mine all of the dumps in the world and burn up those monuments to energy inefficiency as well as burn up those materials which poop out the end of our horrendously inefficient consumer beast. This process will last until the feedstock, which are the dumps and the inefficient detritus from our fossil fuel cycle are gone. Then it stops.

Second: We could still burn up the dumps, but instead of continuing our stunningly wasteful manufacturing processes, we could build processes designed according to the principles outlined in "Cradle to Cradle." This would mean no waste stream from our industrial processes, which is as it should be. But, once the dumps are mined and the fossil fuel used up, the game is up.

Of course, my standard concerns regarding the rest of our resources being depleted before we could ever get to the end game of the above processes still hold.

I assume that the presenter subtracted all the emergy these "waste" materials contained.

No, any more than landfill-gas operations do.  The resource is going into landfills at the moment, and ridiculous comparisons to some thermodynamic ideal (arrived at with no consideration for toxic pollution or materials recovery) don't deserve a hearing.  Those are the province of crankdom.

Thermodynamics is a limit, not an "ideal." I believe his point was that this can never create anything sustainable. If the promoters have accurately calculated their energy inputs and realistically estimated their outputs, it possible there's a net gain compared to burying the waste in a landfill. Thermodynamics tells us that the gain, if any, will be much less than the energy that made the crap in the first place.

Yes, but that's not necessarily crucial. It's indeed glorified recycling if it takes a barrel of oil to make a pile of garbage from which we can then extract a half-barrel of oil. But if it takes a barrel of oil and a whole bunch of sunlight to make a pile of garbage from which we can extract two barrels of oil, we could well be ahead on the deal. The key equation isn't total energy in the system versus total energy out, but energy we had to add to the system versus total energy out.

This is the problem with the example. What if the boat were made of wood? You might get back your 50 gallons, or even more.

Thermodynamics tells us that the gain, if any, will be much less than the energy that made the crap in the first place.

Quite true, but as the financial folks like to say, "sunk costs don't count".  The materials were put into the demolition debris years to decades ago.  Nothing is going to reduce the energy which went into them; the only question is, what useful outputs can we derive?

Landfilling yields zero immediate output, and is quite GHG-positive after allowing for methane leakage.  Gasification not only eliminates the methane and the need for the landfill, it can be sited close to the source to minimize energy costs and emissions from transportation.  On top of this, it reclaims metals and yields non-leachable aggregate-quality slag which can be recycled as new building material.

It probably makes sense to reduce the high-energy materials (wood, plastic and whatnot) which go into construction.  But nothing we do today is going to change what was used in the past, and it's the historical construction materials which determine what kind of demolition fuel stream we've got.  If that stream will become mostly inert 30 years from now, it doesn't change what is sensible today.

(FYI:  I'm short with Cherenkov because his objections are barely above crank-quality.)

I'm not really trying to stir the pot, but do I understand you to say that you think McDonough is a crank?

Sounds like a good coal gassifier to couple to a turbine generator.

Transport coal with a slurry pipeline, dewater to the point the residual contained water is the amount for the reaction to hydrogen and we have also eliminated the rail transport of coal. Fused slag instead of fly ash.

I think gasification is the way to go not only for MSW but cellulosic materials as well. It avoids the problem of cultivating delicate enzymes then separating large amounts of water. I was at a mining town where the municipal waste tip is sited on an old smelting works. It was kinda creepy but maybe we could get used to it.

Trash to energy sends you down the path where the generation of waste literally becomes "economic development" and puts your state DEP in the worst possible conflict of interest. [Of course the federal EPA is beyond compromise already...] The slag/ash is certainly not non-toxic. The culls from the waste stream (whether negative or positive pick) become "in state" waste - so there is another level of toxics. The "burps" from the incinerator/gasifier/whatever include not only heavy metals but PCBs and dioxins depending on temperature of operation. Here in Maine the state says it doesn't have the money to test the gray ash from the burps, but advises treating it like lead.

The global envirosphere is no more an unlimited sink for toxics than the planet is an unlimited source of fossil fuel. Someday we may not have fossil fuel - if we are still around - but the worst of what we spew into the environment as a waste sink will be there forever - at least as far as life on the planet is concerned. We are directly poisoning the well.

cfm in Gray, ME

You'd think the higher 1500 C temperatures would destroy dioxins. Plants that recycle ferrous scrap (including plastic coated) still need scrubbers according to a study that asks not to be cited. Meanwhile our neighbours throw PVC into the backyard incinerator.

Liquid iron would tend to scavenge halogens anyway, no?  Iron chloride in the slag wouldn't be any sort of problem.

Anything that came off in the gas (hydrogen chloride, perhaps) would be mostly removed during the fuel-gas cleanup.  This has been done with coal-fired IGCC, and it works very well.

PCB's and Dioxins would likely decompose at the high temps required for this process. Other elemental toxins like lead could be extracted from the steel melt just like they are extracted in a smelting process. If the ash were melted into fuzed glass (addition of silica?) then it could be handled safely.

Now we throw all this stuff in landfills that consume thousands of acres near each city and have the potential to pollute ground water and the local air, besides being big emitters of GHG in the form of methane.

Everything has a few drawbacks but this process appears to have many more positives than negatives.

Exactly. The key to solving almost any problem starts with gathering the "problem" together, and normalizing it. It's almost impossible to sort through a billion tons of trash at thousands if not millions of sites around the country. Convert it down to a few million tons of metalic slag and the law of large numbers indicates that this slag will have a nearly uniform composition. Even better, since it's slag, it'll be composed of no more than a few hundred elements and compounds, a opposed to millions of individual items each composed of possibly thousands of compounds and materials.

At this point, handling a million tons of anything with an almost uniform composition isn't a problem at all. Example A is crude oil, a million tons is what, 10 tankers full, and a few refineries can go through that in a matter of months. Along the way they deal with nastiness from hydrogen sulfide to watever else might be present.

Going just a little off topic here for a moment, uniformity is hugely helpful for almost anything. Another good one is things like information security which I know is very off topic. Simply mandating strong encryption on everything (DNSSec, IPSEC, SSL, PGP, ...) would wipe out huge classes of problems, almost any sort of spying, net filtering, extortion, etc... would be fixed instantly. Similarly, many firms just have blanket policies that paper doesn't leave the building without being shredded, doesn't matter if it's just old magazines. Figuring out what to shred, and making sure all documents are properly classified is hugely difficult, shredding everything is very easy, and far more secure anyway. If you only shredded the important stuff, then mere knowledge of what is missing would tell any attacker exactly where to look for the proverbial "smoking gun." The list goes on.

The waste stream from New Orleans would be different from US average, even pre-Katrina.

Much more calcium (oyster shells), lead (paint, old plumbing, even oyster shells) and less electronics waste (gold, silver, tin) among other variables. More food processing waste (crawfish shells, carrot tops, etc.) than US average and less plastic. We "home process" more food here.


True, but after melting it all down, the difference wouldn't be that great. Food processing waste wouldn't be dramatically different from paper (or most plastic), for instance, in terms of the gasses it would make when you toss it into molten iron.

So the slag would have a sligthly different composition, say perhaps 5% calcium rather than 2%, but that's not much of a difference. A process that can handle 2% calcium can probably handle 5% as well, so it's unlikely that you'd need to do anything different at all.

Likewise, DON'T MAKE THE TRASH in the first place.

Centralizing a few million tons of slag in one place, well, that's exactly what some jackass would call "economic development".

cfm in Gray, ME

If, if, if. Yeah. If. Maine DEP says that the incinerators take care of the PCBs and dioxins. Of course it works perfectly. It's technology and science Mr. Wizard. Nevermind the boilers are designed to burn wood chips. That's what 451 deg? Not 1600 plus. How do they get to 1600 plus? Coal. Coal in a boiler designed for wood.

Therefore, there is no money for testing. And disparaging a corporation doing something like that in an attempt to influence policy is now terrorism and a felony. Never mind, move along, it's perfectly safe. The *authorities* say so. Trust them. Sucker.

Sinks need to be restricted just as much as resource inputs. That applies whether it's CO2 into the oceans (bye-bye plankton), trash in general or mercury fillings in human teeth. Everything has to be reused. Not just recycled - reused. Or don't use it in the first place.

Not going to happen, yeah, I understand that too. I had to listen to a debate tonight among four candidates for Congress - every one of them talked about how we must leave Iraq and stop building the bases there. Not going to happen [ until we are out of money but, hey, they are all cornucopians... we can replace our energy sources AND have universal health *insurance* and justice and fairness. (Meaning two blonde children in every pot)].

cfm in funk, ME

It should be noted that neither of these presenteres were free from commercial bias. Both were at this meeting in large part to seek capital for their projects.

A recent Ze-gen press release stated said:

"In a world of $70 per barrel oil, Ze-gen represents a non-incineration based opportunity to create clean power with a limitless supply of free fuel."

We all know the supply is not limitless. Nor is it free. My father-in-law designs brick factories. These days brick factories often locate next to landfills for the "free" gas or near sawmills to burn the "free" sawdust. A fair amount of cost; however, goes into getting and using the "free fuel". Furthermore an additional cost occurs due to the unpredictable nature of the fuel. If you burn standard NG you can just count on a burn of X degrees for Y number of hours. With these types of inputs the engineers have to constantly monitor and adjust based on the erratic behavior of the input energy source.


I enjoyed reading both your post and the various comments. I find the part about processing waste particularly interesting. We clearly have large amounts of it, but at the same time we don't want to "poison the well".

One reason I find this of interest is that there seems to be at least some connection between heavy metals and other toxins and the increasing prevalence of autism and ADHD in recent years. Since the increase in "developmental diseases" is over a rather short time period, it stands to reason that it is likely from something environmental, and not a change in heredity.

I know that there are some from autism groups who believe that mercury (either from vaccines or from pollution such as from coal burning) are responsible for the rise in autism. There are also groups that are saying that the rise in ADHD is related to additives in food (particularly food colors, but also some artificial flavors). These conditions seem like the kinds of conditions we would expect to increase if there is an increase in toxins in the air.

Orac has been all over the autism-mercury theory for years.  If I understand him correctly, the data prove:

  • Mercury poisoning produces symptoms very different from autism.
  • Removal of mercury from vaccines does not affect autism rates.
  • The neurological differences characteristic of autism are not consistent with mercury poisoning.

What people believe about autism means... absolutely nothing.  A lot of folks with autistic children are looking for scapegoats, especially if that means they can absolve themselves of blame.  Unfortunately, the explosion of autism in e.g. Silicon Valley appears to be due to assortative mating as fellow geeks have children together and more of them wind up well beyond Asperger's on the spectrum.  The jury is still out on that hypothesis, but mercury (for all its other crimes) is innocent beyond a reasonable doubt.

For its other crimes, mercury should be removed from bioavailability and imprisoned as sulfide, without parole.

Engineer poet,
I love it! You're absolutely right about the autism/ mercury conspiracy theory! Something very bad is going on with the autism epidemic in the first world but it ain't mercury or vaccines. You're right mercury is very bad in many ways but autism/ asperger's ain't one of them. How did you know all this?

Phineas Gage, MD

Since you're an actual MD, I've got a quick question. ;-)

Wasn't there very strong reason to believe that the rise in ADHD is due to little more than excessive sugar, caffein, and possibly a little bit of bad parenting? I've read quite a few articles about little pilot programs where they took severely ADHD kids, plopped them in a special school that didn't feed them any sugar, and they were fine. Is there something really going on here, or is the rise in this disease really just a reclassification of good old fashioned "Brattiness".

I'm not a doctor but I'll take a shot at it: blame essevive tv. Autism can be defined as lack of "empathy" (controversal but more accepted than not).

Empathy requires a developed pre-frontal cortex(empathy is a higher brain function):

TV puts your brain in a passive state. The brain is very much like a muscle. If it is not used, it deteriorates (the body metabolizes unused neutrons). Kids nowadays are watching 3+ hours of tv a day.

The association between MMR vaccine (thimerosal..) and autism came about partly because parents and others often notice the child is not ‘normal’ at around 1.5, or 2, around when the vaccine (and others as well of course) are administered. Then this Wakefield chap published a paper in the Lancet in that direction. It was quickly understood that the link was nonsense. (E.g. compare non-vaccinated pop. with vaccinated pop. - can be done in 2 weeks...)

However, debunking was slow - and the popular imagination can’t let it go. (See Ted Kennedy! -google) This all comes about because autism is a dreadful condition; its staggering rise is very worrisome and to date inexplicable. (Doesn’t correlate, btw, with a ‘rise’ in vaccine use!)

Food additives are another popular bugbear and have been blamed for endless ills, including, a hem, low libido. There is absolutely no evidence they are involved in autism spectrum disorders.

To sum up, the environment is being degraded, pollution (etc.) is horrendous, I need not go on; but there is no environmental characteristic one can isolate or even speculate about.

That does not exclude complex environment-human interactions that could have deleterious effects on the embryo, the foetus, the newborn. Unknown unknows.

replying to the qu. above...ADD....The argument that it is just ‘brattiness’ is very strong. Historically, and some here may remember these things, children who were inattentive, rowdy and ‘bad’ - unmanageable, poor at school (Tom Sawyer?), etc. - have been classified, from 1900 about, in order, as:

morally deficient - so needed punishment and training - there was a left over feel from religious doctrines;

suffering from minimal brain damage / dysfunction - needed help, would never come to much, mentally handicapped, just like other ‘slow’ ppl, were outcasts;

learning disabled - not their fault, and certainly not their inherent qualities; needed special ed, special concessions, compassion, etc., could enter Harvard, just like a person missing an arm..

now as basically not paying attention and having difficulty in organising and other extremely vague problems, and, surprise, needing therapy with drugs.

The populations thus described are very similar, though, of course their behavior varies over the different sociological conditions with time. (E.g. swearing, pranking, insulting, stealing were common in 1920; not so today in the middle classes..well.. all that could be discussed...)

Nevertheless, there are some psychologists who do think that ADD / ADHD represents a new tableau, some difficulties that are not just created by professional / drug company greed, modern life which insists on hyper conventionality and ‘treats’ those who can’t perform or fall into the required mold.

"However, debunking was slow"

In some regards, this was actually a plus, as concerns about thimerosal, whether justified or not, pushed a whole new examination of the use of vaccines, and especially, the use of preservatives in vaccines. A positive result was that many previously separate vaccines were combined, so that overall exposure and risk has been lowered.

I know this because I read folks like Orac, whose "Respectful Insolence" blog has been one of the best sources of crank-debunking info for years.

I was on the Social Venture Network’s website today and came across this contest for socially responsible business leaders: . It looks like a great way to reward new businesses for working toward the greater good.

We can't run our entire society on our own garbage. That would violate thermodynamics. The economics of garbage to energy depends on tipping fees with the energy being a useful byproduct. If we look at each possibility as the silver bullet that solves our energy problem, none fit the bill. But if we generate 20% of our electricity from solar, 20% from garbage, 20% from wind, 20% from this, 20% from that we might have something.

'The current electric production from waste is less than 3800 megawatts (not sure if this is USA or worldwide).'

Might be world - from just one company in Germany, MVV -

'Revenues from the waste business rose by 55% on the 2004/05 finanial year. The revenues from the electricity and steam volumes generated at our waste-to-energy plants grew by 58%. Sales at our biomass power plants in Mannheim (20 MW) and Königs Wusterhausen near Berlin (20 MW) increased by 7% on the 2004/05 finanial year. The biomass power plant at Flörsheim-Wicker near Wiesbaden (15 MW) is consolidated at equity as an associated company.'

And notice that not only electricity is produced - MVV also runs district heating from the energy produced. When you have compact living areas, co-generation becomes very, very practical.

That sort of co-generation is very low hanging fruit in Europe - but due to American zoning practices over the past two generations, such a massive increase in efficiency is not possible without massive, massive infrastructure investment. Essentially, taking a coal plant and 'reusing' the heat allows for a serious gain in 'efficiency' (the terms are not perfect). Such changes in 'lifestyle,' though generally transparent to the residents being provided electricity and heat, are not practical in the U.S.

So the garbage is there; it can be used intelligently - for now.

When the waste goes..cough cough. The municipality I live in made a simple plan, to heat water and pipe it to homes from the garbage incineration plant (which also produces electricity) heating 5 000 homes, 13 000 ppl.

these very short descriptions and technical notes are in French.

Well, at least the MVV facilities, along with others I am glancingly familiar with, are designed to burn just about anything organic - and that includes 'biomass.'

The difference between burning wood (the most common 'biomass' for such facilities in Germany, apart from waste) and burning trash is that trash is 'free' - however, the plants are not designed to be limited to trash, nor is the economic basis exclusively based on 'free' fuel.

Obviously, 55 megawatts is not exactly a huge amount, but the financial assumptions are pretty hard-headed, including substitute sources of fuel.

The community in which I live has a fairly high recycling rate. The local incinerator wants to move the community to "single stream", meaning that the recycling will go down to maybe a third of what it currently is and the rest goes into the incinerator.

the garbage is there; it can be used intelligently.

The intelligent use is NOT to use it but to stop making it.

cfm in Gray, ME - where our fastest growing businesses are exporting water (Nestles') and importing trash (Casella)

Today's lightbulb moment.

Mixtures of water/biodiesel and of molten iron/furnace slag separate into layers that are easily tapped. Water/ethanol doesn't which is why it will always have low EROEI.

Been There Done That

I was closely involved with Molten Metal Technology which went bankrupt 10 years. We went though about $350 mm, but we could never get it working well. Dow Chemical believed the process created dioxins, but I am not sure that it was proven.

It's the inconsistency of MSW-derived fuel which has driven Ze-Gen to use construction and demolition waste exclusively.  Once they have something working, they may try to branch out.  This looks like a smart move.