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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Although recycling efforts have reduced the amount of trash we send to landfills in recent years, small percentages of garbage are actually recycled - especially in Israel. Worse still, even in an optimal situation, only 20 percent to 30% of our waste products can be recycled, which leaves 70% to 80% for either incineration or landfills.
Incineration releases toxic, carcinogenic fumes, while landfills spread disease, pollute soil and groundwater and create eyesores like the former mountain of trash outside Tel Aviv, the Hiriya dump.
Ironically, today this colossal trash heap - all 565 million cubic feet of it - is being converted into a recycling theme park and environmental beacon named in honor of Ariel Sharon, who personally fought to protect it from voracious real-estate developers.
It is also here, in fact, that one innovative company chose to install its pilot program for transforming trash into electricity.
TGE Tech, which stands for thermal gasification ecological technology, created a new technology for treating garbage based on gasification, a process that converts raw materials to synthesis gas by placing the materials in a reactor at 800Âº with a controlled amount of oxygen.
"This thermal process is nothing new," explains Jean Claude Ohayon, the CEO of TGE Tech. "It's been used since the time of Victor Hugo, when its coal byproduct was used to light the street lamps in Paris." Yet, although the formula and simpler implementations have been around for more than a hundred years, TGE Tech was the first company to apply the technology to trash and patent a machine that is technologically advanced yet simple, efficient and inexpensive.
Ohayon, who made aliya from France in 1995, says that he chose to come here partially because of the excellent state-subsidized incubators in clean technology. "I had a lot of experience with environmental standards thanks to my background working with environmental start-ups, and I knew that it was going to be an important market. I wanted to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities here."
With a clear goal in mind, Ohayon founded TGE Tech in 2000, hired a team of excellent Russian engineers and got to work on the research and development. By 2002, the company had applied for its patent, which it was granted in 2006.
Since 2005, when the pilot program began in the former Hiriya dump, TGE Tech's machine has been processing 200 tons of garbage a day and generating enough syngas to power the gasifier and the waste treatment plant with some left over. Ohayon says that the remaining syngas (which has some of the properties of coal, oil and gas but only has about 15% of the power) can be sold to local electric companies by the municipality to generate revenue or used to power the city's street and traffic lights.
"There is no direct emission of syngas into the atmosphere during this process, and gasification doesn't produce any flying ashes or toxic fumes," says Ohayon. In a nutshell, you kill two birds with one stone by getting rid of trash and creating syngas, which can be converted into a biofuel that is much cleaner than diesel and doesn't pollute the air.
Ideally, the trucks that are used to bring in the garbage will one day be fueled with syngas. Since the inception of the first machine, TGE Tech has sold machines to municipalities in Russia and South America.
In the future, the company hopes to continue selling its machine to convert trash into energy and begin transforming syngas into a biofuel. "We are not the only ones doing this, but we were the first and our technology is very advanced," Ohayon says, pointing again to the huge benefit of being supported by an incubator.
Beyond the environmental and fiscal benefits this new technology is now offering to municipalities and countries all over the world, Ohayon is also pleased with the personal benefit. "We are not talking about a utopia," he says with pride. "This is a reality."
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