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Turning Up the Heat on Trash

September 11, 2006

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St. Lucie County is ready to spend millions of dollars to burn its trash.

The county, in what is believed to be the first such project, has approved spending $425 million on a 100,000-square-foot plant that, when fully operational, will vaporize up to 3,000 tons of garbage a day. County officials estimate that their entire landfill, which now contains 4.3 million tons of trash, will be gone in just 18 years. That might seem like a long time, but it's nothing compared to the length of time it takes to break down trash naturally.

The plant will aim super-hot temperatures to burn the trash, creating steam and power that can be used throughout the county to make other things go. (In particular, the plant plans to sell 80,000 pounds of steam a day to nearby Tropicana, makers of orange and other juices.) Even sludge from the wastewater treatment will be vaporized, and then turned into slag and sold for construction and road projects.

Two such plants already exist; both are in Japan. The Florida plant, like its Japanese counterparts, will boast temperatures of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Florida plant is expected to begin operation in 2008.

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