Frequently Asked Questions
Since Port Fuels and Materials Services (PFMSI) submitted its Environmental Screening Report to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and made those reports public for comment late last year, there have been a number of questions raised that we are happy to answer.
Is this an incinerator?
Gasplasma® is not an incinerator. The process is completely different from incineration. It is significantly cleaner, greener and more sustainable, and it does not create the harmful by-products that must be later disposed of like incineration.
An incinerator burns waste components into ash, leaving behind up to 25% toxic bottom and fly ash. Gasification uses steam and high heat in a highly-controlled low-oxygen environment, in which materials cannot burst into flames due to lack of oxygen, to break waste materials down into a synthetic gas. This "syngas" is then cleaned in the plasma conversion unit, where ultraviolet light and heat “cracks” leftover chars and tars and converts the gas into a fully clean syngas. Leftover inorganic materials do not become toxic ash, but an environmentally-inert building material called Plasmarok®, useful for applications like road paving.
Is Gasplasma an experimental technology?
Actually, it’s a new application of two existing commercially mature technologies. Gasplasma® is a clean combination of two very well-understood processes: Gasification and plasma conversion. The two technologies have been operated at the full-scale level for over 50 years in nearly 100 different operations worldwide. Gasplasma® combines the two technologies in series to transform waste products into a very clean synthetic gas and a solid by-product called Plasmarok®. This is a patented process tested successfully at a pilot plant in Swindon, U.K. and recognized by numerous third parties, including recently earning a Certificate of Technology Assessment from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change’s New Environmental Technology Evaluation program.
How does data collected from your pilot site in Swindon UK scale up to a larger facility?
Gasplasma® technology combines the well-known, well-established technologies of gasification and plasma conversion. The Swindon pilot plant was built to demonstrate that the two technologies could work hand in hand. With over 3,000 hours of operational data and extensive testing from independent companies, the Swindon plant has shown that Gasplasma® not only works, but does so cleanly and safely and in a highly energy efficient manner.
It is common practice in engineering to build a small-scale pilot project first and in this case, the major components were downsized from standard operating units. Once sufficient data and verification and validation tests are performed , it is then built up to a full-scale project. That’s what PFMSI’s Port of Hamilton facility is. We know from the tests in Swindon that gasification and plasma conversion fit together in a clean, sustainable package.
Data from the Swindon pilot plant has been used to calculate the air emissions from the Port of Hamilton facility. You can find those estimates in the Air Study of the Environmental Screening Report.
The Ministry of the Environment approves many proposals without a demonstration site or a pilot location to measure environmental impact. How does that process work?
It’s a matter of engineering. The Ministry looks for sound scientific and engineering data to detail the operation and estimated air emissions from any new facility in Ontario that would produce them. They look for things likecomparable industrial standards, engineering estimates and emissions factors. In most cases they deal with engineering data, which is based on mathematics and empirical evidence.
In the case of PFMSI’s Hamilton Gasplasma® facility, test data from the pilot plant in Swindon, UK is part of our submission. Test data from a pilot plant is considered high-quality data because it represents actual hard data about potential emissions tied to the proposed process.
Why is the annual output of the pilot facility less important than the hourly waste processing rate to calculate emissions estimates?
The hourly output is key because the pilot plant is just that: A pilot. Why not measure annually? Because the Swindon pilot plant is often shut down for various modifications and research projects. It does not operate every day of the year as a full-scale commercial facility would.
While the Swindon pilot plant’s hours of operation vary based on its nature as a test facility, it can actually process 100 kilograms of waste per hour. The PFMSI Gasplasma® facility in Hamilton will have a capacity of 15,000 kilograms per hour. That’s 150 times larger than the pilot, not 3,400 times as some have suggested. If the Swindon plant operated on a full-time basis, the ratio would still be 150 times because it would be taking 100 kilograms of waste every hour, not just some hours. It is on data from the hourly rate, not the annual rate, that the engineering for the Hamilton Gasplasma® facility is based.
Why did the pilot facility in Swindon not meet Ontario A7 air emission standards? How will the facility in Hamilton meets those standards and by how much?
Environmental standards in the UK and Ontario are a little different, but this is not a difficult adjustment. The pilot plant does not have full scale catalytic controls as in a commercial facility – basically scrubbers to clean emissions - because it is a smaller test facility and is approved to operate in this manner by Environment UK. PFMSI’s Hamilton Gasplasma® site, however, will have catalytic controls as a key part of its design. That means it will be a clean facility that is not only fully compliant with the A7 standards, but will be well below them.
How did you calculate that additional emissions would not overload the Hamilton airshed?
PFMSI recognizes that residents are concerned about air quality. That’s why our environmental studies, including an additional Human Health Risk Assessment we undertook, took into account existing air quality. We listened when we held the 1st Open House. Concentrations of contaminants existing in the air today were added to the estimated emissions from PFMSI’s Gasplasma® facility for the purposes of the study. But that research found that the facility would pose no risk to human health and demonstrates that the facility’s emissions should not be a concern.
Gasplasma® itself is a clean process that does not produce atmospheric emissions. What emissions are generated will come from the facility’s power generation engines, comparable to the combustion of natural gas. As well, the industrial, commercial and institutional waste used in the Gasplasma® process will not end up in a landfill – and landfilled waste breaks down into methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. In fact, the facility will result in a net reduction of greenhouse gases and a reduced carbon footprint.
You can read the findings for yourself on our website.
Does Gasplasma® - and gasification more broadly – have the same emissions as incineration?
Because of more current research and development into energy alternatives over the last decade, it has been clearly demonstrated that that gasification is now tangibly a significantly cleaner process than incineration. The USA National Energy Technology Laboratory notes that it is easier to control gasification emissions than incinerator emissions because high heat and pressure allow contaminants to be more readily removed from syngas than an incinerator allows. The U.S. Department of Energy also acknowledges that gasification has significant environmental benefits over burning carbon-based feedstock. Gasplasma® improves on this process further by adding a plasma conversion unit through which the syngas passes to be cleaned of residual chars and tars. The plasma element of Gasplasma® is an emissions control method: It breaks down remaining contaminants to create a syngas that is significantly more clean than even conventional gasification.
This emissions myth often relies upon outdated studies, including a 2004 Fichtner Consulting Engineers study. However, in 2010, Fichtner reviewed Gasplasma® and stated: “For many years, developers have been trying to convert waste into a gas that can be used in a gas engine for electricity and heat generation. APP (the designer of Gasplasma®) has overcome the major obstacle to the use of waste gasification to power such gas engines.”
Will PFMSI have to gasify toxic waste in order to make money?
Accepting hazardous materials is not part of the plan. PFMSI has not applied for a permit to handle hazardous waste. That means no hazardous material will be accepted.
Isn’t waste a non-renewable, unsustainable resource?
Ontario’s municipalities have struggled to divert more of their waste from landfills increasingly reaching capacity. But even diverting half of residential waste is considered high – and the larger industrial and commercial sector diverts just over 10% of their waste. In Hamilton’s case, much industrial and commercial waste is trucked to the U.S. to be landfilled.
Converting it into useful electricity with Gasplasma® is an environmentally sustainable solution to a problem that will be with us for the foreseeable future, and much preferable to letting waste sit in a landfill and release methane into the environment.
How loud will the facility be?
All plant operations will take place indoors. Relative to the site surroundings, noise levels from the proposed Facility will be minimal and will meet MOECC regulatory requirements.
A Noise Study will be completed as part of the Environmental Screening Process. There will be no noise impacts above provincial criteria at any sensitive receptors.
Will an Environmental Assessment offer any new data that will reflect on the impact of the facility?
That technical data is already available because PFMSI, recognizing that Hamiltonians would have valid questions about the Gasplasma® process, made a point of conducting extra technical studies to ensure this process is safe, clean and sustainable. While PFMSI has gone through an Environmental Screening Report, the extra studies, including a Human Health Risk Assessment, are what would normally be required by an Environmental Assessment. In fact, while the Environmental Screening process allows developers to “screen out” criteria that do not fit the project – specifically assessing alternative locations – PFMSI did not screen out any studies that assessed the technology and its impact at the Pier 15 site: We carried them all out.
Under both the Environmental Screening and EA processes, we are required to evaluate the environmental effects of a project, and the same definition of “environment” is used.
PFMSI’s environmental studies comprise 3,000 pages of data. You can find them all on our website, and we encourage you to review them.
Some are saying an Environmental Assessment is required for one aspect of the facility. Is this the case?
That’s not the case. Ontario’s Waste Management Regulation and its accompanying guide state that a project should follow the Environmental Screening process rather than an EA if the site doesn’t use coal, oil or petroleum coke as a fuel for thermal treatment, and if it doesn’t use all of its thermal treatment-derived energy to dispose of waste. PFMSI’s Hamilton Gasplasma® facility meets both of those criteria: It won’t use coal, oil or petcoke as fuel, and the energy from thermal treatment on site does not burn waste.
Who is responsible for conducting the environmental studies, either an Environmental Screening or an Environmental Assessment? Why?
Ontario regulations say it’s up to PFMSI to see that the environmental studies are conducted and public consultation is undertaken before being sent on to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change for review. That’s true for both the Environmental Screening Report process and the Environmental Assessment process. PFMSI sought out an independent firm with significant experience in this field, Conestoga-Rovers and Associates, a leading professional services firm in the engineering field, to conduct the studies.
The studies conducted include the following:
Environmental Screening Report
Design & Operations Report
Surface Water Assessment
Geology & Hydrogeology Assessment
Land Use & Socio-Economic Assessment
Acoustic (Noise) Impact Assessment
Air Quality Assessment (including the Human Health Risk Assessment
Natural Environment Assessment
Cultural Heritage Assessment
Click here to access reports.
What kind of emissions will the facility produce and are they harmful to human health?
Air emissions from the Facility will not adversely impact the local air shed and will result in a net reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and a reduced carbon footprint.
The Gasplasma® process itself does not produce any emissions to atmosphere. It produces a very clean fuel gas that is composed primarily of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. After intensive cleaning and conditioning including the plasma process, this fuel will be used in the power generation units.
The primary air emissions from the basic process will be the emissions from the power generation engines and will be comparable to emissions from combustion of natural gas.
The process and emission control systems will all work together to keep levels well below applicable Ontario air quality guidelines.
The Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) is an additional voluntary Study being conducted that also assessed emissions and shows no health concern from this facility.
Will this environmental permit application be for non-hazardous material and is it a good alternative to current practices?
This permit process is only for non-hazardous material.
It is targeting locally generated waste material that would normally go to a landfill where such materials would decompose and create methane (methane is a greenhouse gas 21 times more damaging to the environment than the carbon dioxide).
Where will the waste come from?
Fuel (waste) for the facility is expected to come from businesses and operations within the Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) and locally from the nearby industrial area, including the construction and demolition debris
These wastes are currently loaded into trucks and hauled many kilometres to landfills in Ontario or across the border to the United States
This local waste issue already exists within Hamilton. This fits as a part of the potential solution per the City of Hamilton’s 2012 Solid Waste Management Master Plan where new technology (including gasification) will be explored to manage current/future waste issues.
Will the proposed facility produce odour? Will odour from the trucks transporting and dumping waste at the facility be contained?
During operation, the plant will always operate under negative pressure and emission controls will be used as necessary to minimize/eliminate odour release to the environment to comply with Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) regulations.
How visible will the facility be?
The facility will be housed within several buildings with low elevation stacks. It will not be a dominant visual feature in the existing context of the HPA lands and the surrounding industrial and marine structures.
Will the proposed facility impact traffic?
Traffic could slightly increase as a result of this proposed undertaking and a Traffic Study, completed as part of the Environmental Screening Process, shows that it is acceptable relative to local traffic volumes.
The facility will be in close proximity to waste sources within the Hamilton Port Authority and other industrial facilities limiting some traffic to internal roads.
What are the chances of a catastrophic event (e.g., furnace explosion, fire, etc.) and what are the proposed emergency procedures? What are the possible impacts associated with a major system failure?
There is very low risk of a catastrophic event with this facility. There is no storage of syngas on site and the process operates at normal atmospheric pressure. The process is easily halted when the waste feed is stopped and during off-nominal conditions.
The management of the facility will provide for appropriate levels of safety and shut-down procedures in an emergency situation. We will liaise with the fire department to ensure the design and operation is appropriate in the event of a fire (i.e., availability of sufficient water supply for fire-fighting purposes). A Contingency and Emergency Response Plan (CERP) is being developed for the facility
Has the technology been tested elsewhere?
Yes – the Gasplasma® Pilot Plant located in Swindon, UK was first built in 2005 It has been operating successfully with various organic/ inorganic waste fuels for over 3,000 operating hours with a gas engine.
The two main components, the Gasifier and the Plasma Converter, have been operated for over 50 years nearly 100 different operations worldwide.
How much energy will the facility generate?
The facility will generate 15,000,000 kilowatthours annually - the equivalent energy required to operate approximately 17,000 homes.
Won’t the size of this facility force you to import waste from outside Hamilton?
The proposed Hamilton facility will utilize waste materials from Hamilton's industrial, commercial and institutional sector. Currently most of these materials are disposed of privately. Much of the waste is trucked across the border to landfills in the United States. Various Ontario authorities note that the ICI sector diverts barely more than 10% of its waste from the landfill. This sector accounts for more than half of Hamilton's overall waste. That means there is ample waste available locally for the Gasplasma® plant to operate.
What is the taxpayer cost and benefit/liability?
No taxpayer funds have been sought and no tax concessions have been requested in the development or operation of the facility.
With respect to taxes, typically, a Federal body (such as HPA) pays what are called Payments in Lieu of Taxes to the City of Hamilton, as a Federal body is exempt from municipal taxation. However, given that the property is being leased by a private proponent, municipal property taxes will be paid to the City by PMFSI. The facility is estimated to add $500,000 yearly to the Hamilton tax base.
The Bayfront Industrial District is an established industrial zone that is primed for rejuvenation as an advanced manufacturing zone. This rejuvenation and/or economic development is enhanced by facilitating a cluster of development approaches. The PFMSI facility will contribute to the Bayfront Industrial District by offering resource recovery (waste processing), electrical energy and heat to existing and incoming advanced manufacturing facilities.
Will information be available to the public?
The Environmental Screening Process and Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) process are both public processes. PFMSI will continue to host open houses, speak to community groups, and maintain a Community Liason Committee (CLC) as part of its commitment to a transparent and open process.
Studies, open house disply boards, and presentations will be posted on the PFMSI website in addition to minutes from CLC meetings. Further, the ECA applications will be available for public comment via the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) website.