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Trash-to-Energy Technology: Its Arrival in the United States Proves Timely!

An innovative trash-to-energy technology that will convert garbage or trash into renewable energy is coming to the United States by way of an $80 million waste-management plant in Chicopee—a city in the Hampden County, Massachusetts. The proposed plant will feature the new environment-friendly technology. Surely, this bold idea will change the way people in Massachusetts—and later the rest of the country—handle their trash.

The Process Used in Trash-to-Energy Technology

Trash-to-energy technology involves the process of generating energy from the primary treatment of waste. This process is a form of energy recovery that begins from the collection of regular household waste that has been sorted for recyclables by homeowners. The collected trash is dumped on a tipping floor where large items such as old appliances, tires and other large pieces of metals are physically removed.

The trash that has been cleared of large pieces is then fed to and slowly rotated inside horizontal tanks filled with lukewarm water. Enzymes are added to help break down and liquefy the organic materials in the trash. The processed trash in the tanks is then automatically separated after the 18-hour process. Accordingly, the liquid in the tank will be piped to an anaerobic digester that converts it to a biogas product, which works in the same manner as the creation of methane during the breakdown of organic wastes in landfills. Like methane, the biogas produced in the converter is combustible and can be used in producing electricity. The electricity produced in the trash-to-energy technology plant could be sold on the electric grid, thus forming a renewable source of energy.

Electricity and Other By-Products

Aside from producing biogas for generating electricity, trash-to-energy technology generates various by-products from the process. The plastics, metals and glass that homeowners failed to collect for recycling are subjected to a very thorough cleansing process and will then be sold to the recycling market. The trash that did not break down—such as tin plastics—could be used in the production of engineered fuel that may be used as alternative fuel for coal-burning plants that create electricity. Also, the particulates that settle in the tank’s bottom could be used for other purposes.

Recycling Water And Creating Renewable Energy

The trash-to-energy technology involves the use of big volumes of water without wasting it because about 95 percent of the liquid is recirculated. The plant features a closed-loop system. So, very little water is lost. In addition, the trash-to-energy technology plant creates renewable energy in the same manner that a landfill creates methane as a result of the breakdown of organic materials. However, while it takes landfills 20 years to break down the materials and create methane, it takes only 20 hours for the trash-to-energy technology plant to produce the same results.

Trash-to Energy Technology in Massachusetts

DONG Energy REnescience—one of the leading energy groups in Northern Europe with headquarters in Fredericia, Denmark—will be building the advanced recycling plant in Chicopee. The plant can handle 132,000 tons of solid waste per year. The company tested the new technology in its Copenhagen demonstration plant. It also opened their first large-scale plant in the United Kingdom this year.

The arrival of the new trash-to-energy technology is very timely for the city of Chicopee since it is facing potential problems due to the city landfill that is reaching its capacity. The Chicopee landfill will be closing in 2018—affecting not only its home city but all other communities that use the same landfill.

Because of the scheduled closure, Chicopee explored several options—and the trash-to-energy recycling plant proved to be the most viable one. This bold idea means that the city won’t have to look for another place to dump the city’s trash after the closure of the landfill. Dong officials are working with the Chicopee city government and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Energy Resources on the necessary permits and options for tax and energy credits, so they can open the trash-to-energy technology plant as soon as possible.

Renewable Energy by 2050 — Is it really possible to achieve this globally?

There is no turning back when it comes to the use of renewable energy. There is an urgency to accelerate the use of wind, solar, and other technologies and to limit the use of fossil fuels. Scientists recently analyzed publicly available data from the International Energy Agency about 139 countries. They came to the bold conclusion that all these countries could be using 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Currently, these countries collectively contribute 99 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.

In Focus: The Paris Climate Agreement

With current financial, economic, and technological trends, it could mean that it is possible to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. The Paris Climate Agreement—signed in 2016—laid down guidelines where each country would determine, plan and regularly report their own contribution in fighting global warming. The main number to consider is to limit the increase in world temperature to 1.5 percent above pre-industrial levels.

Unlike other world agreements, the Paris Agreement serves as a baseline for the goals and leaves the implementation to the signatory countries. It is an avenue for divesting from the use of fossil fuels. One of the main features of the agreement is the implementation of “nationally determined contributions”, which are required to be “ambitious” and call for an improvement over time. This case means that the goals for each country are updated according to new technologies and developments as time passes.

On the Matter of Renewable Energy by 2050

With that information about the Paris Climate Agreement, the aforementioned multi-nation study was based on current trends and did not take into account each country’s goals in meeting the Paris Agreement itself. A 100-percent usage of renewable energy would have a large effect on the world economy. Indeed, renewable energy includes solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal energies, along with up-and-coming technologies like tidal and wave powers. With the above findings, it would mean that coal, oil and nuclear sources would be contributing a minimal amount of power to the world’s energy supply.

This new study itself is an offshoot of an earlier study which took a look at the energy usage of the United States. The original 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on the future of renewable energy in the country drew criticism because it did not take into account the supply-demand grid balancing nor the politics and economics of monopolistic companies.

Other Details About the Recent Study

The recent worldwide study by Mark Z. Jacobson, Mark Delucchi, and their 25 colleagues included an intermediate estimate where scientists believed these same countries could be generating up to 80 percent of their power needs from renewable sources by 2030. The group of researchers created a roadmap which showed the potential outcomes of current efforts:

  • Onshore Wind, 23.52%
  • Photovoltaic Solar Plants, 21.36%
  • Residential Rooftop Solar, 14.89%
  • Offshore Wind, 13.62%
  • Government Rooftop Solar, 11.58%
  • Concentrated Solar Plants, 9.72%
  • Hydroelectric Energy, 4%
  • Geothermal Energy, 0.67%
  • Wave Energy, 0.58%
  • Tidal Energy, 0.06%

One offshoot of the previous scenario is that with the above figures, the cost of production is only one-fourth of the comparable cost for energy production from fossil fuel plants. In addition, there is an expected 27 million jobs that may be lost due to the shift to renewable energy, but at the same time, there may also be a demand for 50 million new jobs in the renewable energy sector. Although some countries currently have plans to implement new nuclear power plants well into the 2030s, the study did not take this fact into account. The researchers dismissed the figures for energy from nuclear power plants due to their high cost, nuclear waste, the possibility of a meltdown, and the danger of nuclear arms proliferation.

The United States and Renewable Energy

a cartoon illustration of three school kids looking at solar panels in the far distance amid the idea that One hundred thirty-nine countries could be using 100 percent renewable energy by 2050
Is it possible to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050?

The U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, but it hasn’t abandoned renewable energy—even the idea of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. In fact, communities are turning towards renewables at a very fast pace. The share of renewable energy production in some states indicates that this case is a permanent trend. For instance, Iowa now produces more than a third of its electricity from wind farms, leading the United States in percentage use. South Dakota’s combined water and wind electricity production is around 70 percent. In 10 years, from 2005 to 2015, Kansas grew its wind energy capacity to about a quarter of its total energy production.

Markedly, it is important to note that these are not just community-based initiatives, as large enterprises are also turning to renewables. Boeing’s South Carolina plant sources 100 percent of its energy requirements from renewable energy. Other big-name companies, which are major customers of renewable power, include General Motors and Walmart. In the sunny city of Las Vegas, hotels and casinos are increasingly becoming more dependent on renewable energy. A lot of the big hotels there now have solar panel arrays on their roofs. The details of that implementation are harder to understand, as the existing state-backed power generating monopoly has been charging companies and households to deter them from going off-grid.

Notably, what is happening in Nevada can also happen in other states as the confluence of technologies and economics will determine when renewable energy will finally replace fossil fuels.

New Technologies as a Stop-Gap Measure

Power company monopolies would be fighting for their existence as their customers try to cut costs by using new technologies. The economics of energy generation can be very complicated— with the mix of private corporation renewable sources on their site, oil and natural gas prices, hydropower generation, and other factors.

The Nevada utility company, in essence, penalizes companies and households which generate their own power. The penalties go to subsidizing other entities which depend wholly on the power company for their electricity. The idea is that with decreased demand, the electric company would be forced to hike prices on the remaining customers in order to continue operating at a profit.

Other Related Factors and Details

These factors which affect how energy is generated, the cost of energy, and how much it is sold to consumers, were not included in the 2017 worldwide study. The researchers, however, took into account that countries with a large land area would be in a better position to put up renewable energy plants. For smaller countries, they would be dependent on the energy-generating capacity of their neighbors, or they would have to generate power offshore.

Another factor which was included in the study is the estimated drop in prices of energy generation for renewables. At present, electricity from solar energy is still generated at a higher cost. This detail, however, is expected to decrease over time and should be much less than electricity from coal and oil-powered plants by 2030.

Bold Ideas Toward Renewable Energy by 2050

In relation to the matter of achieving renewable energy by 2050: There are many bold ideas which can be explored and utilized as a means to an end. The use of batteries, which is beginning to come online, is one of many technologies that can make the scenario of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 happen. With batteries, energy can be stored during peak production hours, and then drawn from during the off-peak hours. For solar energy plants, more electricity can be produced during the day, and then the batteries can just take over after dark.

Indeed, as mentioned above, there are many avenues which can be tried and tested before a viable solution can be attained for 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. It’s something that must be done not only with urgency but also with a firm commitment to seeing it through completion. In truth, bold ideas will not amount to anything 20 years down the road if they are never acted upon.

Link Between Stress and Gut Failure

Scientists have found a link between stress and the gut. Researchers discovered that the mechanisms behind chronic stress and tiny inflammations in the brain has an effect on fatal gut failure, and could create a bold impact in helping sufferers of multiple sclerosis (MS).

These results demonstrate a direct link between brain micro-inflammation and fatal gastrointestinal diseases via the establishment of a new neural pathway under stress.

According to Science Daily, researchers from the Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan discovered that fatal gut failure in an MS mouse model under chronic stress is caused by a nerve pathway not found before. The new discoveries are helping scientists come up with new therapeutic strategies for the incurable disease which has no provable therapeutic strategy today.

Experts claim the findings are a significant breakthrough in the fight against MS. This potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system (CNS) affects more than 2.5 million globally. As it affects the brain and spinal cord, it causes sufferers to experience major motor dysfunction, impaired vision, and even gastrointestinal failures. “It is an autoimmune condition of the central nervous system mediated by immune cells called autoreactive CD4+ T cells,” the website writes. They further explained that in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) mouse models, these pathogenic CD4+ T cells can cause a disease similar to MS when transfused intravenously to healthy mice.

In their study, the team and their partners in Germany and Japan investigated the “relations between chronic stress, micro-inflammation in the brain, and stress-related organ failures.”

For research purposes, the team applied stress to healthy mice by disturbing their sleep or by wetting their bedding. The stress caused the mice to transfer pathogenic CD4+ T cells which caused gastrointestinal failures or even sudden death. The findings were important because acting alone, both the cell transfer and the stress didn’t cause the symptoms independently. As research progressed, scientists found a complex nerve and cell structure which highlighted the link between stress and the effects on the gut.

See through human with gut and brain.

The medical team found that they were able to prevent gut failure by suppressing inflammation in the brain or blocking nerve pathways from the brain to the gut. “The results suggest that tiny areas of inflammation around some specific vessels in the brain, which are known to happen in various brain diseases including multiple sclerosis, are a risk factor for organ dysfunctions including severe gut and heart failure,” the website adds.

“These results demonstrate a direct link between brain micro-inflammation and fatal gastrointestinal diseases via the establishment of a new neural pathway under stress,” Masaaki Murakami, lead researcher, said. “Micro-inflammation in the brain is also seen in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. So it’s of particular interest to investigate possible connections between brain micro-inflammations and organ dysfunctions, including those within the brain itself, in those patients,” he added.

Not only is the latest research important for MS sufferers, but experts claim it’s an important finding for those suffering from stress and stomach issues. There is now tangible evidence to suggest that there is a direct link between stress and the stomach. The science and medical fields needs more focus on these findings which could help millions of suffers around the world.

Self Healing Screens Change Cell Phone Business

Motorola has patented a new self-healing screen design, a bold idea that may make cracked or smashed cellular phone screens a thing of the past. According to the manufacturer’s plans, smartphones will have the ability to self-repair screens if they have been dropped, damaged, shattered, or cracked.

…the cost for repairing cracked cell phone screens is above $3 billion a year in the U.S. alone.

Despite most electronic companies designing supposedly “smash proof” or “crack proof” screens, damages can still be caused when their phones are dropped from a height of just a few meters. Experts have said that although there is already material on the market that has the ability to self-repair, the technology is still very much in the infant stages and Motorola’s new designs aren’t likely to hit the shelves anytime soon.

According to a report by 2020TECH, Motorola’s patent details a system that allows the screen of a smartphone to repair itself through the use of a special material that has self-generating properties. The phone giant has used a “shape-memory polymer material that has the ability to fix cracks or deformations it experiences when heat is applied. This compound would be used to cover the glass panel of the handset, which would become a self-repairing screen,” the website writes.

Motorola has patented the technology which will be able to detect scratches, cracks, damage, or any abnormality on a smartphone’s screen.

Once the onboard electronic system pinpoints the problem, the handset owner will receive an alert informs them of the issue and then gives an option to start the repair. The user can also manually program the phone to locate areas of damage in the glass that need repair.

Girl with broken phone, girl with not broken screen. Motorola's self healing phone screens.

The repair system will work via the handset electronics applying heat to an affected area from within the smartphone, which will activate the shape memory properties of the protective cover over the glass and repair the damage.

Motorola has highlighted within their patent that this technology is not magic; rather, it is a sophisticated way of repairing damaged screens. They state that while it’s not yet perfect, it is able to correct and repair minor damage and flaws.

Digital Trends states that 50% of the global population have experienced a cracked smartphone screen. In the United States, the overall percentage of people with a cracked screen stands at 34%. Repair bills for cracked screens can reach $125 upwards for each handset. In addition, it’s revealed that the cost for repairing cracked cell phone screens is above $3 billion a year in the U.S. alone. The survey found that it is more than likely that users will fork out at least once during their phone’s lifespan for a new screen.

If Motorola is able to pull off their latest design, they will certainly make a bold impact the cell phone market. Many phone owners have come to the end of their ropes when it comes to paying for really expensive screen repair bills, sometimes on multiple occasions.