From Waste To Fuel With That Ol' Zap Magic

To chemists, scrap tires, used plastics, and old dashboards aren't junk. They're carbon-based refuse that can be converted into fuel and chemical feedstocks. Spokane (Wash.) startup Montana Precision Mining Ltd. is co-developing a new way to handle such wastes. In the patented Skygas process, invented by A.C. Lewis of Libby, Mont., refuse is fed into an oxygen-free chamber above a pool of water. When zapped by an electric arc, the water molecules form "free radicals"--highly reactive compounds that rapidly decompose the wastes. High temperatures aid the process.

The resulting fuel gas can be burned to produce electricity or used to make methanol or ammonia. MPM says the process is less costly and uses one-fourth the energy of conventional electric-arc refuse reactors. Co-developer SpA of Milan, Italy, is conducting the first large-scale tests.