New Bedford Alternative Energy Company Continues to Grow

Betting on a Hot Market for Syngas
Turning Scrap Metal and Debris into Energy May Help US Ease Its Reliance on Oil
By Robert Gavin, Globe Staff

NEW BEDFORD – Take a rusting, hulking pile of scrap metal, add a few tons of construction debris, and what do you get?
In the case of Ze-gen Inc., a new source of energy.
Ze-gen, founded four years ago, is using the unappetizing conglomeration to make fuel for power plants.
Borrowing technology from the steel industry, the company turns scrap metal into a 2,800-degree metal bath and injects construction debris deep into the bubbling cauldron. The process produces a clean-burning synthesis gas, or syngas, that can replace natural gas or fuel oil.
Ze-gen has been proving its technology and the quality of syngas over the past year, operating a demonstration plant here that digests about a ton of debris an hour. The company is now considering several sites, primarily in the Northeast, to develop a commercial facility that could eventually process as much as 30 tons an hour and produce enough gas to fuel a plant that could power 20,000 homes.
It expects to begin commercial production at the end of next year.
“We’re solving two problems,” said Bill Davis, Ze-gen’s chief executive. “We’re eliminating wastes that would end up in a landfill and reducing fossil fuels.”
Ze-gen is one of many companies across the nation using gasification technologies to convert plant, wood, and other organic wastes – known as biomass – into syngas. Some like, Ze-gen, are simply making syngas, which has the same chemical components, carbon and hydrogen, as fossil fuels. Others, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff InEnTec LLC, of Bend, Ore., are condensing it into liquid to make ethanol.
InEnTec uses municipal solid waste as feed stock and a technology known as plasma gasification, initially developed at MIT several years ago to destroy hazardous materials. The technology essentially creates an artificial bolt of lightning that vaporizes materials. InEnTec applied the method to solid waste, producing a syngas, then introducing a catalyst to change the gas into liquid, which can be blended with gasoline.
InEnTec and a partner, Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc. of California, recently said they plan to break ground on a $120 million plant near Reno, Nev., by the end of the year, and begin commercial production of ethanol in 2010. The plant will process 90,000 tons of waste annually to produce 10.5 million gallons of ethanol. Including tipping fees (the charge for taking the waste), the company projects making ethanol for about $1 a gallon, said Dan Cohn, a cofounder of InEnTec and senior research scientist at MIT.
August 25, 2008
Source URL: http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2008/08/25/betting_on_a_hot_market_for_syngas/

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