The Null Device
A new technology promises to turn garbage into clean energy. Called "plasma gasification", the technique can consume anything other than radioactive isotopes, producing only a glass-like substance (which is allegedly usable for making tiles or asphalt) and a hydrogen-rich gas which can be converted to various fuels. What's more, the process is self-sustaining; after initially starting the process, all one has to do is keep up the flow of material, and it will power itself, and also produce surplus electricity which can be sold.
Inside a sealed vessel made of stainless steel and filled with a stable gas--either pure nitrogen or, as in this case, ordinary air--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.Though not everybody's convinced that the system is safe:
Of course, the technology, still unproven on a large scale, has its skeptics. "That obsidian-like slag contains toxic heavy metals and breaks down when exposed to water," claims Brad Van Guilder, a scientist at the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which advocates for clean air and water. "Dump it in a landfill, and it could one day contaminate local groundwater." Others wonder about the cleanliness of the syngas. "In the cool-down phases, the components in the syngas could re-form into toxins," warns Monica Wilson, the international coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, in Berkeley, California.Perhaps if someone could adapt this technology to work on self-replicating nanobots, then we may have something...