Rising food prices have recently been blamed in part on the redirection of corn to ethanol plants. By growing less corn to take advantage of ethanol prices and subsidies, demand and speculation of food supplies has risen. To counter this effect and find a more efficient alternative to corn ethanol, a few companies have began to build and develop ethanol plants that use household and solid wastes to produce fuel. This idea not only provides a reliable stream of raw ingredients from landfills, but helps to cut down on waste that is being deposed of in our environment.
GeneSyst International is currently constructing a plant in the Netherlands to convert landfill mass into fuel. The company uses a design that allows gravity to filter out particles that can be converted. By building near landfills, transportation costs can be kept low, extending that savings to local customers. Some of the items they will be converting include: food wastes, office paper, cardboard, yard wastes, scrap wood, sewer and septic screenings, and crop chaff. GeneSyst hopes to reduce landfill waste and run a more profitable operation than any current waste disposal programs.
Another company that operates in the United States is beginning construction on a similar technique of producing ethanol from waste products. BlueFire Ethanol uses its system of Concentrated Acid Hydrolysis to convert landfill waste into a usable fuel. The process separates the biomass into cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Afterwards, the cellulose and hemicellulose are changed into sugars, fermented, and purified into a final product. Acid is used to break down the source biomass and reused in future conversions. Operation is expected in 2009. BlueFire boasts of being the only demonstrated company currently, though that may soon change with plans of competing companies.
Many other projects are being planned by competitors that use variations of the above technologies. The waste industry provides vast opportunity to reduce our dependence on foreign oils and limit the destruction that landfills create. While ethanol does not claim to be the most efficient alternative energy, it is an idea that scientists and developers see as a step in the right direction that can also provide income and jobs. We will always create wastes and this may be a great answer to waste and energy management.