It sounds as if someone just dropped a tricycle into a meat grinder. [...] Inside a sealed vessel, a 650-volt current passing between two electrodes rips electrons from the air, converting the gas into plasma. Current flows continuously through this newly formed plasma, creating a field of extremely intense energy very much like lightning. The radiant energy of the plasma arc is so powerful, it disintegrates trash into its constituent elements by tearing apart molecular bonds. The system is capable of breaking down pretty much anything except nuclear waste, the isotopes of which are indestructible. The only by-products are an obsidian-like glass used as a raw material for numerous applications, including bathroom tiles and high-strength asphalt, and a synthesis gas, or "syngas" -- a mixture of primarily hydrogen and carbon monoxide that can be converted into a variety of marketable fuels, including ethanol, natural gas and hydrogen.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the process is that it's self-sustaining. Startech's Plasma Converter draws its power from the electrical grid to get started. The initial voltage is about equal to the zap from a police stun gun. But once the cycle is under way, the 2,200F syngas is fed into a cooling system, generating steam that drives turbines to produce electricity. About two thirds of the power is siphoned off to run the converter; the rest can be used on-site for heating or electricity, or sold back to the utility grid.
(I'm not sure I understand how that last part doesn't violate the second law of thermodynamics...)
"We'll get all our garbage to disappear, and our landfill will be gone in 20 years," he tells me. "We'll generate 160 megawatts a day from the garbage, but we'll consume only 40 megawatts to run the plant. We'll sell the net energy to the local power grid." [...]
"All the landfills around New York have closed, incinerators are banned, and we are trucking our trash to Virginia and Pennsylvania," he explains. "That is costing the city $400 million a year. We could put seven or eight of these converters in the city, and that would be enough." [...] But the decision-making bureaucracy can be slow, and it is hamstrung by the politically well-connected waste-disposal industry. "Many landfill operators are used to getting a million dollars a month out of debris," says U.S. Energy's Paul Marazzo. "They don't want a converter to happen because they'll lose their revenue."
(By "the politically well-connected waste-disposal industry" I'm pretty sure they mean Tony Soprano.)
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have successfully generated electricity from heat by trapping organic molecules between metal nanoparticles, an achievement that could pave the way toward the development of a new source for energy.
The discovery is a milestone in the quest for efficient ways to directly convert heat into electricity. [...] "Generating 1 watt of power requires about 3 watts of heat input and involves dumping into the environment the equivalent of about 2 watts of power in the form of heat. If even a fraction of the lost heat can be converted into electricity in a cost-effective manner, the impact it would have on energy can be enormous, amounting to massive savings of fuel and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions."