April 30, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

TGE Tech’s device can convert refuse into syngas, an element that has the properties of gas, oil and coal.

Some of the biggest mountains aren’t made out of stone; they’re built out of garbage. It’s a sad fact of life that the human race generates a lot of byproducts. If they can’t be recycled – and about 70 percent of our trash can’t – then it gets dumped, in what is euphemistically called a “landfill.”

But hold on a second: There may be gold, or at least electricity, in those dumps. So says Jean Claude Ohayon, CEO of Israeli startup TGE Tech, which has developed and patented a system whereby unrecycled refuse can be converted into fuel with a special patented device that turns garbage into gas – syngas, a well-known element that has some of the properties of gas, oil and coal.

Syngas, although less potent than those natural resources, can be used to generate electricity to light a municipal electricity grid; and even make some money for local governments, which can sell the power generated by TGE’s system to local electric companies.

With incineration unpopular or outright banned in many localities, governments have had no choice but to seek expanded dumping grounds. But, between the expanded need for real estate close to the city and increased opposition by environmentalists and worried householders, these are getting difficult to find.

Some municipalities are sending their garbage to landfill sites further afield, but with fuel so expensive, it makes less sense to transport trash far. Recycling helps only a little, Ohayon says; as much as 70 percent of it has decayed so badly by the time it gets to the dump, it has no commercial value, and no recycler is willing to touch it. So, in the dump most trash remains.

Ohayon’s thermolysis gasification technology system can change the fortunes – environmental, administrative, and financial – of a municipality almost immediately. “Straight incineration is bad, because the trash gets turned into dioxins and other chemicals that are not very healthy to be around, and get released into the atmosphere,” Ohayon tells ISRAEL21c.

But with the TGE system, “the trash is turned into syngas, which can be burned for fuel like any other material. The trash is gone, and in its place is electricity, which can then be used to supply power to a whole neighborhood or small city,” says Ohayon.

Syngas is not as effective as oil or coal, Ohayon realizes; it only has about 15% of the calorie (energy) power of its authentic siblings. However, Ohayon explains, that level of energy is more than enough to power the gasifier, the waste treatment plant, and probably all the streetlights and traffic lights in a city on any particular day.

“One ton of garbage can generate 0.4 kilowatts of electricity an hour, which isn’t a huge amount, but can definitely contribute somewhat to the energy pool in a locality,” he says. And at the same time – the garbage is gone.

Generally, the idea would be for the dump to sell the electricity generated by the TGE system to the local energy utility, instead of trying to use it themselves. The electricity is forwarded to the central grid, and the municipality that owns the gasifier gets electricity credits or cash payments for its work. However, because the TGE system is recognized by governments as a “green,” clean, environmentally sound system, the electricity generated by the system gets sold to local utilities at a premium – mandated by law, in most places.

“In Germany, for example, electricity costs about .08 euro per kilowatt hour – but the electrical utility must buy the power generated by a TGE system at 0.40 euro per kilowatt hour – 15 times the price customers pay them,” says Ohayon.

This is part of an incentive package to encourage environmentally sound technologies for green power generation, and those incentives are on the books not only in Germany, but in most countries. In Israel, for example, the electric company pays double the amount of what it sells a kilowatt-hour for, to TGE generated power providers, and in France such power sells at a 300% premium.

Ohayon, a recent immigrant from France, says that his system is cheap to install and run, and can gasify trash – and generate power – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

TGE, which is based in the Arava desert, has set up a pilot program at the former Hiriyah Dump near Tel Aviv (soon to be Ariel Sharon Park), and is planning a much larger project in Israel, which will burn up to 200 tons of garbage a day.

Systems are also set to be installed in several South American and European countries. It could be the ultimate Israeli technology trick – turning today’s trash into tomorrow’s electricity.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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