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U.S. Army to power bases with garbage

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U.K. defense technology firm Qinetiq has been awarded a three-year, $2.4 million contract to supply the United States Army with a system that can generate electricity from garbage.

U.K. defense technology firm Qinetiq has been awarded a three-year, $2.4 million contract to supply the United States Army with a system that can generate electricity from garbage.

Called PyTEC, the system includes a pyrolysis tube capable of consuming up to 220 lbs. of waste -- which includes food, medical and sanitary, paper, plastics, tin, oil and glass -- each hour. The PyTEC system also reclaims up to 500 kW of the thermal energy from the waste per hour, some of which is used to sustain the system itself.

The "containerized" system produces five times more energy than is used to power the system.

The system works by heating mixed waste to high temperature in the pyrolisis tube. Doing so releases combustible gases, which are stored and, later, burned to generate electricity.

This type of process differs from other systems because the heating takes place without oxygen, allowing it to handle untreated mixed waste.

In contrast, aerobic systems generally need waste to be a single type and diced before incineration. To boot, aerobic systems have trouble handling certain waste, such as tin and glass.

Aside from energy, the byproduct of the PyTEC system is a glassy waste product that is 5 percent of the volume of the original garbage.

The U.S. Army will commission and test the system next spring through early 2012. Up to ten systems are expected to be deployed, many of them in Iraq and Afghanistan, in an attempt to stem the army's use of fossil fuels and augment waste disposal efforts.

Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure