Questions and answers

1. What is plasma?

Plasma is a heavily ionised matter resembling a gas state (e.g. oxygen), to which a considerate amount of energy, e. g. from an electric arc, has been provided. The energy forces the atoms of the gas to “lose” their electrons, and this is what eventually makes plasma a perfect conductor of electricity and heat. It can also easily transfer this energy onto surrounding matter. On cooling down it becomes a gas. Yet when the gas reaches the state of plasma, its particles cease to be electrically neutral. In other words, when the kinetic energy of electrons is high enough, it exceeds the binding energy and they leave an ionised particle, becoming a free carriers of electricity.

Plasma torch

2. Where else can we find a plasma technology in use?

Perhaps most popular use of plasma in technology is connected with the high temperatures it may reach and its electric conductivity. This features predispose it to many different uses in metalworking.

Plasma torches are used to cover metallic surfaces and heatproof ceramics with refractory oxides of metals. The use of plasma in electronics and lighting engineering is not a novelty either.

Practically all gas lamps, beginning with the oldest neon lights, exploit plasma made through electrical discharges.

3. Does plasma radiate?

Although the majority of plasma particles is electrically charged, in its entire volume it is electrically neutral. A great number of ions of different charge and free electrons makes plasma interact with electric and magnetic field so it perfectly conducts electricity and heat, and its resistance drops proportionately to increase of its temperature.

It is hard to answer to the question, as the notion of radiation is very broad. We can say that everything has its own radiation, every living organism, however, we know for sure that plasma is not a source of any harmful radiation and it is not radioactive.

Scientists, examining behaviour of a technical plasma in a controlled environment, conducts computational simulations, on the basis of which they form conclusions that allow them to model the cosmic plasma and to explain such phenomena as solar corona, aurora, or to remotely explore the makeup of stars.

4. What is gasification?

Plasma heats up every kind of matter to a very high temperature, and that is why it is used in e.g. cutting metals, ceramics and even rocks. Complex substances heated up by plasma decompose into particles of simple compounds such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide or hydrogen. This process is called gasification, that is decomposition without combustion. After cooling down the particles does not form the previous compounds, but remain in the three types of primary matter:

  • raw synthesis gas of relatively low calorific value – resembling natural gas;
  • vitrified inorganic remnants in solid form, so-called vitrite – resembling volcanic rock such as basalt.;
  • mixture of molten metals.
The idea of plasma waste recycling

Gasification is a process that takes place in temperatures near 1000ºC with access of oxidant factor such as air or steam. Its products are usually carbon monoxide, hydrogen and small amounts of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, methane and steam. In the planned plant we deal with the process of gasification including thermal conversion of waste with access of oxygen that is under the level necessary to trigger incineration (so-called stechiometric value).

Some of the reactions that happen in the process of gasification have an exothermic character, which means that these processes produce heat.

Calorific value of the gas obtained in gasification depends not only on the substances contained in the combusted material, but also on the selected oxidant factor.

The produced syngas can be used directly in:

  • production of electric energy;
  • production of fuels (synthesis of liquid hydrocarbons);
  • synthesis of methanol.

The heat-producing factor used in the process is plasma, which is counted among the type of cold plasma (4000–30000 K), and it is produced in plasma torches, whereas we can speak of hot plasma when it reaches temperatures over 30000 K – such plasma can be found inside stars.

Invention of a safe way to reach high temperatures of the stream of cold plasma gave an opportunity of a very efficient – in comparison to a standard combustion – waste recycling. Thanks to the impact of high temperature and high-density energy considerably quickened the process and thus its efficiency.

Technology of plasma waste recycling is one of the most promising innovations. Currently, more than 15 companies carry a research on its possible uses, and the leading company in this field is AlterNRG/Westinghouse.

Due to the fact that in the described technology pure oxygen is used, the produced syngas has a higher calorific value, thanks to which it can be efficiently used as a fuel in the systems of a higher efficiency, such as gas engines and gas turbines, which directly generate electricity.

5. How can we produce energy from waste?

Waste that ungergoes gasification gets decomposed in the process. More or less one third of the decomposition material is syngas – substance similar to natural gas. It is refined, purified and dehydrated to become a pure source of energy. Once it is directed into the gas turbine, it turns into steam and carbon monoxide releasing huge amount of energy out of which electricity and hot steam, that is heat, are generated.

6. Is it dangerous to produce energy in this way?

The production of syngas, and generating energy from it, is very safe. No explosive substances are used and all devices work under low pressures. Even accidental damages of them does not cause any threat of harmful emissions. Shutdown of an entire plant resembles turning off the gas under a boiling kettle – everything cools down, and the gasification processes cease.

7. Is functioning of the energy plant dangerous to the environment?

Energy obtained from syngas is much more pure and enviromentally friendly than the energy generated from coal or oil, because during its production none of the fossil fuels are used. Thus, it does not contribute to the greenhouse effect. The harmful emissions are million times lower than the fumes emission from a one-family household heated with boiler fired with coal.

8. Is there a risk of bad smells, noise, toxic fumes, etc.?

The stage of the process that requires processing of not-yet-decomposed waste will be done in a tighly closed containers, with their air partially pumped out. Then the pressure inside will not allow any smells to escape outside. The devices will produce sounds inaudible from more than 200 metres from the plant.

What remains of plasma? Production of energy from waste via its decomposition with use of hot plasma is „the only method of waste recycling known to human, which does not leave any secondary waste”, as we can read in the brochures of the American company Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC).

9. Is it an experimental method?

In the world, there are several hundred plants of various size that, in the process of waste recycling, use electricity and high temperature generated via ARC plasma torches. In Europe, including Poland, there are various companies that rely on the knowledge and experience of other providers. However, units that use the energy from plasma torches are not in the top of the installation based on technology of thermal waste recycling. There is no doubt that the exploitation of plasma arcs as the main source of energy is a natural step in the development of the technology of thermal recycling. Hence, it seems that as a safer and more efficient method it will, continue to supplant currently used technologies.

Uncertainty of the method and the technology

The great majority of devices of the processing line are solutions commonly known, proven and widely used in the energetic, chemical and petrochemical industries for a long time. Among the components of technological structure of the plant we can discern:

  • internal transport facilities;
  • grinders, mills, feeders;
  • dryers;
  • filters and electrofilters;
  • coolers and heat exchangers;
  • steam turbines and gas turbines.

The only innovative elements, considering Polish industry, are plasma torches with is power system. It should be worth mentioning, however, that these devices have been exploited and improved for over 30 years, and as such they cannot be considered as unproven and unreliable.

The described technology is not new. Its first application has place in the 70s of 20th century and happened in connection with the the competition for outlining the method of recycling rich materials used in the production of shuttles and spacecrafts, which was organised in 1977 by NASA. The winning company Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC) proposed recycling of these materials with use of plasma. Since then, the process has constantly been improved. Five years ago on the market appeared its fourth generation – most current and electrically very economical, allowing to sell as much as 80% of energy produced by a single plant.

Scheme of municipal waste recycling process in a reactor of Westinghouse Plasma Corporation

10. What is syngas and what does it consist of?

Syngas is a mixture of commonly known substances. Usually its composition is:

carbohydrates 2,8%
carbon monoxide 39,2%
hydrogen 1,4%
carbon dioxide 23,3%
compounds of sulphur, nitrogen and chlorine 6,6%
water steam 25,1%
other 1,6%

The first three on the list are the energy gases, while steam decreases the calorific value of the gas.

11. Does syngas undergo further processing?

Yes. The main aim of the process is to purify the gas from compounds of sulphur, chlorine, nitrogen and to get rid of slight amounts of noble gases, heavy metals, and other unwanted substances. Moreover the gas is dehydrated, and part of the carbon dioxide it contains is converted to carbon monoxide and oxygen. These measured are to increase the calorific value of the syngas. Once processed, it acquires the same energetic properties, as network natural gas.

12. What happens in case of failure of the filters?

Devices which are used to purify raw syngas are one of the most fragile elements of the installation. In case of any problems which would result in decrease in the quality (purity) of syngas, the automatic control system turns on the auxiliary line of purification, which is to completely substitute the purification system.

Very crucial factor – in terms of technology – is to maintain the highest level of purity of the obtained syngas, which would be used as a fuel in gas-engine generators of electricity – devices very fragile to any contamination. Insufficiently purified syngas decrease durability of the generators, lowers its efficiency and may lead to their damage. To maintain possibly highest quality of the fuel (the combustion of which produces potential contamination of the products emitted to the atmosphere) is the key task of the highest priority for the plant operator.

13. What use can be made of syngas?

Synthesis gas is used mainly for direct generating of electric and thermal energy. It is also used as a raw material for production of synthetic fuel oil. It can also be condensed and sent in cisterns to chemical factories. There, it is used in production of plastics, oils, lubricants, etc.

14. What is vitrite?

Vitrite, one of the by-products of the process, is a mixture of chemical compounds – mainly oxides of silica, calcium and halides of various metals. In the liquid state is has properties of volcanic lava (molten rock). Cooled, it resembles pieces of firestone or basalt, and has similar properties. It is used in production of building materials, e.g. mineral wool, warm bricks, gravel or pad stones.

Mineral wool, also known as stone wool, is an isolating material of mineral origin used in building industry. It is made of several materials including basalt stone, dolomite or calcium aggregate, and also more and more often – the recycled materials (mineral briquet). The idea to make mineral wool has been born during the research on the Kilauea Volcano in the Hawaii – in time of its eruption molten pieces of rocks were thrown out in form of lava – it has been observed that cooling down in the strong wind they turned into stone fibres.

15. How are metals obtained from waste?

The process of recycling metals from waste is analogical to the one which takes places in huge blast furnaces, where smelting of the pig iron consists in separation, in high temperature, compounds of metals from the ore.

In our case the process is simpler. The fractioning in temperatures concerns those metallic products, the earlier separation of which was not economical. A classical example of this may be a car tire – in this case, a part of flange, wiring, and frame are sunk in the rubber monolith. The mixture of metals as the heaviest ingredient of the gasified materials precipitate to the bottom, from where it is taken onto further processing – with use of e.g. centrifuge. Smelted metals are sent to the factories.

16. What chemicals will be emitted to the atmosphere?

A reactor is an element of the production line, which does not function separately. It is a device (actually a contained) in which, in a controlled way, a given physical or chemical reaction takes place – in our case it is gasification of waste. Its products are: raw syngas, vitrite, and metals.

Purified syngas is a carbohydrate, which is burnt down to steam and carbon dioxide. Once the reactor is cleaned, syngas is cooled and purified.

Obviously no reaction occurs ideally. Regardless of what systems of treatment and purification are used, one should be prepared for some amount of contamination in the syngas.

Calculations made in currently functioning plants showed that the level of contamination in the measured emissions is several times lower than the lowest values acceptable by even the most strict environmental standards – both local and international.

In the table there are real results obtained by the gasifying (plasma waste recycling) installation – compared with the Polish, European and American norms.

Data on EU norms are in accordance with Directive 2008/98/WE of the European Council and Parliament from November 9th 2008 (Dz. Urz. UE L, 2008 r. Nr 312), and obtained in processing input waste composed in 100% of Municipal Solid Waste of average energetic value of 14 200 MJ/Mg.

Data on Polish norms are in accordance to the decree of Minister of the Environment from November 4th, 2014 on emission standards for selected types of plants, fuel combustion sources and devices for combustion and waste co-incineration.

17. What about water used in the plant?

Water used for cooling devices and for purification of gas circulates in a closed circuit. It comes from dehydration of the input waste, from precipitation, and from the steam condensation in turbines, as well as from the tube wells. There are plans to built, in the area of the plant, a small installation for treatment of the process water.

In this case it is also necessary to take certain losses into account and that is why, considering all regulations, the company will use the water-supply functioning in the area.

18. Will secondary waste be stored on the area of the plant?

No. On the area of the plant the storage of the secondary waste will be prohibited. The company does not intend to obtain this kind of permit. Although construction of silos is planned, the waste that is going to be collected in them will have a character of a indispensable buffer to assure the continuity of the production line.

19. What kind of waste will be recycled in the plant?

The technology of waste gasification with use of plasma as the source of energy allows for a safe utilisation of all kinds of waste, both industrial and communal, except for the explosive and radioactive materials. Due to the established industrial model relying on generating and selling the electric energy made from syngas combustion in the process of waste gasification, the company will be interested especially in waste of high calorific value such as: plastic packing material, recyclable plastic, resins, tires, discarded fertilisers, styrofoam, and used oils.

In the income structure of the company, there are also planned financial streams from the fees collected from the waste providers. It is then possible that at the plant also other kinds of waste will be recycled, including those materials which calorific value is not attractive, yet the reception fee of which will compensate for the energy required to gasify them.

According to the current regulations the company will be obliged to obtain a separate permit for reception of every single kind of waste (each one marked with separate code). It will not be possible to receive random material evading control.

20. How much waste per year will the plant receive?

The plant will be able to collect and process ca. 50–60 thousand tons of waste per year.

21. Will radioactive waste be recycled?

No. The selected technology will not make it possible to process radioactive waste in the plant. Occurrence of such a material in the input would be a considerable problem for the plant, thus a number of procedures are intended, which will prevent taking into recycling any material contaminated with radioactive factors.

The waste will be delivered to the plant in the company transport, and each vehicle will be equipped with a Geiger-Muller counter, which will detect possible contamination with radioactive substances as early as at the stage of loading. It is important, since not only will it prevent such materials being brought onto the area of the plant, yet also eliminate the possibility to carry them onto the grounds of the commune.

22. Where will the waste come from?

We do not assume any need to reach with the offer of waste recycling anywhere beyond the borders of the Opolskie Province and its neighbouring provinces (Dolnośląskie i Śląskie). The expected plant’s efficiency will not cover even a part of their real needs.

However, due to the fact that it is one of the first plants exploiting the technology of safe recycling of difficult waste, which are planned in Poland, it may happen that the company will undertake the task of recycling the waste delivered from other regions of Poland, if it happens to be impossible elsewhere.

It is worth recalling that the plant will not be allowed to receive waste for recycling of which it will not obtain permit; as only such a permit would mean a possibility of particular composites to be safely processed in the recycling.

23. Who will have a real control over the plant?

The designed plant, as any industrial enterprise, will be a subject of the supervision of several institutions. The most important are:

  • General Directorate for Environmental Protection in Opole – environmental supervision;
  • District unit of the State Sanitary Inspection in Kędzierzyn Koźle – supervision concerning healthcare;
  • District unit of the Construction Supervision Inspector – supervision concerning building regulations;
  • The National Labour Inspectorate – supervision concerning labour law;
  • Tax Office in Kędzierzyn-Koźle – financial supervision;
  • Commune Office in Kędzierzyn-Koźle.

24. Who will supervise the realisation of the development project?

The control over each development project in Poland is guaranteed by law, an example of which is, among others, decision-making process concerning environmental conditions of the permit for realisation of the development project, and the authority entitled to issue such a permit is, in this case, the Mayor of Kędzierzyn-Koźle. As early as at this stage, the mayor is obliged to consult the project with, at least, General Directorate for Environmental Protection and the district unit of the State Sanitary Inspection.

The next stage – after obtaining a positive environmental decision – concerns obtaining building permit from Starostwo Powiatowe (District Office).

The development project is obligatorily controlled of several units. In accordance to current building regulations, developer is obliged to employ number of experts, which are to ensure safe and swift construction works and to complete the project according to construction trade best practices.

The participants of the building process, besides the investor, are obligatorily:

  • Construction Supervision Inspector;
  • architect/designer;
  • project manager;
  • site managers.

Besides, as any other industrial enterprise in-use, the designed plant remains under jurisdiction of several authorities, including:

  • Construction Supervision Inspector;
  • Labour Inspectorate;
  • State Sanitary Inspection;
  • General Directorate for Environmental Protection;
  • Province Environmental Protection Inspector;
  • Fire Department.

Each units, including Office of Technical Inspection, will participate also in the final acceptance procedures.

Additionally – due to the character of the project – the plant will not be accepted for exploitation, if it does not successfully go through the procedure of obtaining integrated authorisation (indispensable to start and pursue any industrial activity), which according to EC 96/61/WE from September 24th, 1996 (so-called IPPC Directive), will testify on the side of the developer a real implementation of optimisation in order to ensure high level of general environment protection that is e.g. avoiding a situation of protecting just one component of the environment on the expense of polluting other one.

In the period of exploitation, the plant will also be a subject of strict scrutiny including those carried out by aforementioned authorities.

The plant will be monitored as a unit which:

  • recycles the waste;
  • produces energy;
  • employs workers;
  • uses high-pressure devices.

The developer declares the willingness and possibility to introduce the system of control over the processes realised in the plant, and over the actual and averaged results of emission measurements. It will be made possible for anyone interested to observe the current state of the recycling processes taking place at the plant via dedicated web application or monitoring station, specially designed in the installation.

The main critical parameters concerning possible harmful emissions from the gas combustion, that is a factor which of the most considerable interest, may be shown in real time, e.g. in form of results displayed on a screen mounted on the area of the plant, yet visible from outside of its grounds.

It is worth recalling that the plant will generate electric energy from combustion of syngas produced via gasification of waste, thus these processes by all means qualify as thermal waste recycling, which means that any continuous measurement of the parameters are imposed onto the operator by current regulations of law. Therefore, it is impossible not to continually analyse the parameters of the majority of critical processes in the plant.

25. What happens in case of failure?

The plant is intended to work continually. Minor failures will be handled currently without interrupting the production line. In case of failure, handling of which would require a shutdown of the whole plant, a following procedure will be enacted: reception of waste will temporarily suspended, stored substances will be secured from unauthorized access, work of the gasification modules will be stopped and the devices cooled down, whereas the whole plant will be temporarily disconnected from external customers. The management of the unit will always follow the rules of workplace health and safety as a priority of any actions.

26. What are the benefits for the commune?

The project planned by Korporacja Plasma Power Sp. z o.o. will be encumbered by numerous public donations. From among them, at least four (according to the legislative state as of May 2015) are considered income of the commune where the planned plant is situated.

They are:

  • property tax;
  • part of the CIT tax – 6,71%;
  • part of the PIT tax – 39,9%;
  • vehicle tax.

In consequence of the realisation of the project, several tens of new workplaces will be created both in the plant as well as in the transport enterprise established by the plant. The sole startup of the development process will generate the need to employ people for the construction of the plant. Many of the works will be done by local workers and entrepreneurs.

27. What kind of dangers may occur?

The planned development project consists in creating an industrial enterprise, working in the energy and recycling branch. It will use heavyweight vehicles and various technical devices constituting the infrastructure of the plant.

The technical and technological outline takes into account a number of possible cases, a critical analysis of which is to provide the most safe option. Therefore:

  • The most fragile parts of the installation shall be duplicated;
  • No explosives shall be stored on the area of the plant, and syngas shall not be stored under high-pressure;
  • Intended procedures presume that on the area of the plant shall employ a team of experts responsible for continuous control over the fire-prevention, work health and safety and environmental protection aspects of production.

The majority of the procedures mentioned, which will be implemented in the plant, both during the construction phase and after the setup, result from the current regulations of law. It means that the commitments made are not unsubstantiated promises to be afraid of. Any lack of support guaranteeing the safe functioning of the plant will result in either not granting the operating permit or be a premise for the decision of closure.

The planned unit will be an industrial enterprise working in a continuous mode. Thus it cannot be presupposed that accidents will be prevented. There is always a probability of failure – in any sphere of activity, and so is in this case. There might happen various damages, e.g. a vehicle transporting waste to the plant may broke down, or the vacuum pressure in the containers may fail, which will result in bad smell coming outside.

What, in light of the Polish law, the developer is responsible for is to use best efforts to minimise risk of any danger, and – in the case of emergency – to efficiently and safely handle it. This is what all procedures are directed at.

28. Will people working at the plant be exposed to hazardous materials?

Many substances we deal with at our households are toxic, hazardous or corrosive. Without a doubt then, in an industrial plant having its own chemical laboratory there will be stored many materials considered hazardous. Yet it does not mean that to work with them, meeting all safety measures, will be dangerous.

People working at the plant will be exposed to various hazardous materials, yet the danger will be minimised thanks to following the procedures accordingly with norms and legal regulations.

29. Will the plant be safe for workers and local community?

Each plant might be a potential source of danger both for people on its area and for the local residents.

Successful management over the development project means to minimise such risks and also, despite potential hazards, to guarantee safety for all participants of the production process, that is for the workers and local residents.

Developer – both during the investment process as well as during exploitation of the infrastructure is bound to adhere to the law, including:

  • norms on the minimum distance between localisation of the plant and the nearest human residence;
  • regulations on fulfilling the conditions for exploitation concerning chemical emissions and noise pollution;
  • rules obliging to obtain a separate permit for reception of each group of chemicals.

In the period of obtaining the permits for construction of the plant and integrated authorisation for exploitation, a number of administrative organs analyses compliance of the planned project with relevant norms as well as actual fulfilment of the declaration during the exploitation.

One should be aware of the operational legal tools of which both sides of the development project are obliged to employ. Application of these tools appears to be the best guarantee of safety.