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AFSOC waste-to-energy system converts garbage to usable energy

  • Published
  • By Ashley M. Wright
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
Air Force Special Operations Command became 4,200 tons closer to securing effective alternative energy solutions and even greater environmental stewardship here April 26.

Following a ceremony, the transportable plasma waste-to-energy system began converting 4,200 tons of garbage per year to usable energy and producing intangible benefits by reducing the command's overall carbon footprint.

"This is history in the making," said Terry Yonkers, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, who was on hand for the ceremony. "This is the first waste-to-energy project of this technology to go into an air base. It has been a long time in the making."

The system uses the intense heat of plasma to convert domestic waste into a synthetic gas that provides energy to the system, officials said. The 5,000 degrees Celsius temperature will also melt tin cans, glass or metals found in garbage into glassy rock, which will be recycled or sold.

With temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun, there is the possibility to dispose of medical and hazardous waste from here and nearby Eglin Air Force Base, officials added.

Benefits include keeping nearly 8.3 tons of daily domestic trash from here out of landfills, reducing gas emissions by more than 83,000 tons per year and eliminating toxic materials while producing energy.

The system is designed to hold close to 12 tons of trash per day, according to officials.

The system can be transported to bases and deployed locations around the world to shrink the ecological footprint of the U.S. military by reducing the need to burn waste.

"Our motto is 'a step ahead in a changing world,' but that is not just about airplanes," said Lt. Gen. Donald C. Wurster, the AFSOC commander.

The transportable plasma waste-to-energy system also generates 'cost avoidance' revenue by reducing tipping fees paid by the Air Force to dispose of domestic waste, hazardous materials, medical waste and more, which coincides with the service's commitment to environmental excellence, officials said.

"The Air Force is committed to finding cost-effective solutions that support and enhance Air Force operations while protecting and securing the environment," said Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley. "We're dedicated to action today for a greener and more sustainable Air Force tomorrow."

The project has been in the works since 2007 and is the brainchild of George "Ron" Omley, the AFSOC environmental chief, who began researching the idea after hearing former President George W. Bush speak.

"It is a project we have been working on for four years, and to see it recognized and operating is fulfilling and gratifying," Mr. Omley said. "I look forward to seeing this technology spread."

While other similar land-based systems exist, none in the U.S. are using this design, Mr. Omley said. As a system of this size has never been built, testing is ongoing to see exactly how much energy will be created.

The Hurlburt Field system is five times larger than its predecessor located in Montreal, Canada.

"We are learning new things every day about the system," Mr. Omley said.

The system cost about $7.4 million to build. The funding for the technology originated from the U.S. Foreign Comparative Testing Office, Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century, the Canadian government, the U.S. Air Force Surgeon General's office and Gulf Power.