Israeli startup develops ambitious plant to rid the world of waste

REN Waste founders Shai Pinczewski (in the cap) and Jeffrey Levine hope to turn our trash into something useful. Shai Pinczewski is nothing if not ambitious. The founder and CEO of waste disposal company REN Waste, Pinczewski has developed a …

REN Waste founders Shai Pinczewski (in the cap) and Jeffrey Levine hope to turn our trash into something useful. Shai Pinczewski is nothing if not ambitious. The founder and CEO of waste disposal company REN Waste, Pinczewski has developed a state-of-the-art treatment plant that he claims can rid the world of municipal trash by transforming it into recycled material – including electricity.

Pinczewski anticipates that the company’s disposal plant will get rid of sewage, slurry and solid municipal, commercial, industrial and agricultural waste completely by breaking it down into products such as electricity, ethanol, metal, potable water, glass and gas.

“The whole idea is to have a self-sustaining solution that eliminates 100% of the waste steam, doesn’t damage the environment, and can produce efficient clean energy. We brought in every different technology we need to achieve a complete breakdown in waste,” says Pinczewski.

Municipal waste is an environmental hazard that pollutes air, land and groundwater resources. It causes health hazards ranging from skin and eye infections to lethal diseases. It also costs world consumers billions of dollars a year in disposal costs. In the US alone, waste production has tripled from 88 million tons in 1960 to close to 250 million tons today and in New York, the cost of garbage disposal ranges from $80 to $150 a ton. In Europe it costs about 110-115 Euros.

“These are phenomenal prices,” Pinczewski tells ISRAEL21c. “Municipalities are paying out hundreds of millions of dollars every year just to dump their waste.”

Once dumped, current day disposal methods include incineration, landfills, composting, recycling and a few other small waste to energy solutions. Incineration eliminates 60-70 percent of waste but the remaining 30-40% black ash residue is considered hazardous by most Environmental Protection Agencies. In closely monitored and maintained sanitary landfills, the ash must be disposed of constantly and land fills give off bad odors and can leach into surrounding ground water.

The REN Waste system offers a complete alternative that eliminates the need for complimentary waste disposal treatments. Garbage and sewage are bought to the plant, shredded, run through magnetic sorters, separated, and tipped into a bio-chemical oxidation chamber for seven days for aerobic digestion. After fermentation, a pyrolysis plant breaks down waste rubber, plastics and unfermentable organic matter and by the end of the process the waste has been separated and segregated into component materials and concentrated to a high degree of purity.

The process creates a range of different products including Methane – created in huge quantities and used to generate electricity to power the factory. The remaining electrical capacity (some 85-90%) is sold to the electric grid.

Pinczewski estimates that for every 1,000 tons of garbage treated at the plant, 100 megawatts of electricity will be created: enough to run a small town. In plants where 20,000 tons of garbage are treated, 2,000 megawatts of electricity can be manufactured. All of Israel runs on just 9,000 megawatts, explains Pinczewski. “We could provide 20% of Israel’s needs from one plant and lower the price of electricity substantially,” says Pinczewski.

Ethanol, another by-product of the process, can be added to gasoline to reduce its price and make it cleaner. Adding 10% of ethanol to a gallon of gas burns up 20% of effluents. In the US ethanol is made from grain and Pinczewski believes the REN Waste method is more cost effective.

Other recycled products include ferris metals, iron, steel, aluminum; and clean water for medical applications. Even the rocks, gravel, and glass found in the garbage are separated and sorted to sell back to industry. “On some things we won’t make a lot of money, but the idea is that it won’t cost anything and we will be able to get rid of the waste completely,” says Pinczewski. “It’s good for the environment, good for us, and good for the world.”

By the end of the cleaning process, REN Waste is left with a small amount of harmful materials. Even these will be recycled, however. The company aims to coat leftover materials with a strong plastic polymer that has a life cycle of 50,000 years, creating bullet-sized rocks that can be sold to farmers or the construction industry for earth aeration. “It’s completely harmless,” says Pinczewski. “Even if you plough it, it won’t burst. The plastic is super hard and over time will degrade naturally.”

The plant has been thoroughly examined by some of the world’s top scientists and has been cleared by environmental protection agencies. There are no emissions, according to Pinczewski and it is designed to withstand an earthquake of 9.5 on the Richter scale. “We’ve done everything to ensure that there will be no environmental damage,” says Pinczewski.

The only snag: the startup cost. Pinczewski estimates that a plant for a modern city of 500,000 people creating about 1,500 tons of garbage a day will cost $350 million to build. A plant treating 15,000 tons of garbage daily will cost $750 million.

These are high prices but Pinczewski is quick to point out that they aren’t as scary as they might at first seem. English and Israeli investors have pledged to offer initial financing on the first plant and the outstanding balance will be covered by loans.

The municipality will not have to invest in building the plant but instead will have to lease or sell land for the factory, commit to bringing garbage to the plant once it is operational, and to purchasing generated electricity. The REN Waste plant will charge municipalities an average 20% lower than existing tipping fees. “We can offer a lower charge than current prices because of the products we make from the process,” explains Pinczewski. “For the municipality it’s a good option because there’s no obligation until the system is up and running.”

With development complete REN Waste is now looking to build its first plant. Negotiations are taking place with a number of municipalities around the world. “There’s great interest from many different countries,” says Pinczewski. “It’s only a matter of time before we have our first plant. This will serve as a template for any future plants.”

Pinczewski founded REN Waste this year with Jeffrey Levine but the idea began long before that. In the 1990′s Pinczewski was working as general manager for U.S. based BGN Solid Waste Sciences of New York. The company was in the midst of putting a similar program together with Chicago-based PDA and had begun looking for markets. A few years into the project the owner of BGM died. Pinczewski decided to continue development on his own.

REN Waste employs eight and is financed by the company owners. The company has distributors worldwide.

Aside from the REN Waste plant the company has other treatment plants in the works. Pinczewski points out that the plant can also be used to destroy existing hazardous dump sites where the ground is contaminated by chemical waste. In Istanbul, for example, a huge garbage dump of 2,000 dunams is located right in the heart of the city. The dump, which is in a residential area, smells foul and is downright dangerous. A number of people have been died in methane explosions at the site.

“Our plant can be used to clean this dump up,” says Pinczewski. “We can build a plant that is big enough to deal with the existing garbage of Istanbul, while at the same time clearing up the old dump. It will free up all this valuable land right in the heart of the city and create a pristine environment.”

The company also builds smaller recycling plants that can handle rubber tires or bird and animal waste – a huge environmental problem in Asia. And one type plant manufactures straight alcohol or beer from conventional grain sources.

“I’m a hiker and I love the outdoors,” admits Pinczewski. “At REN Waste we’re trying to take the garbage that is polluting our environment and turn it into something useful. If people used our plants there would be no more need for garbage dumps or dumping into rivers or oceans. The land could be cleaned up. We’re just looking for a place to start.”

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