For most Americans, disposing of trash is no more than an afterthought. The hardest part of it may be lugging a garbage bag to the dumpster, dusting off the dirt and be done with it. Very few people actually consider what goes on with their trash beyond that.
Yet, each year, the U.S. produces about 245 million tons of garbage, or roughly 4.5 pounds per person a day. The majority of that waste is sent to landfills where about 34 percent is recovered and recycled or composted, 54 percent is buried, and about 12 percent is turned to energy through incineration. Incinerated waste, while providing the benefits of reducing landfill capacity and producing energy, also comes with a few drawbacks.
Approximately 28 million tons of solid waste is incinerated annually, reducing the volume to about 10 percent of its size. That remaining 2.8 million tons of material, known as Incinerated Bottom Ash (IBA), is difficult to deal with for many landfills and waste-to-energy plants. That's because IBA usually contains highly toxic components such as lead, zinc, and mercury. With no better alternatives to handle the IBA, landfills are relegated to just storing the material or leaving them in toxic waste dumps, contaminating the surrounding environment and leaching into the ground water.
Enter IBAgreen (PIEX). The company, with its its patented proprietary process, is betting that it can use the toxic ash to manufacture commercially viable construction products like a superior alternative to Portland cement, fluidized thermal backfill for roads, and precast concrete products. The nanotechnology allows the concrete products to be manufactured in such a way that they are not permeable to water or moisture, which is the chief factor for deterioration of the nation's infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and buildings.
“On a global basis, a lot of companies and laboratories have looked at different issues of how to stop the leaching of IBA,” says Angelo Scola of IBAgreen. “Everyone understands clearly that this is the issue. The difference in our approach is that we looked at the end use of the material first, which gives us some boundaries of what we want the material to do.”
Scola says that the company uses nanotechnology to fundamentally change the molecular structure of IBA to neutralize any toxic chemical contamination. The company says its chemical stabilization process enables it to manufacture products that meet and exceed industry performance specifications and exceed environmental standards such as the U.S. EPA 1311 TCLP, allowing the materials to be used commercially.
IBAgreen's strategy provides significant benefits in a multitude of ways. The most obvious is the ability to turn toxic waste material into reusable products, finding productive and constructive uses for materials that would otherwise do more harm than good to the environment.
“We can make ceramic skins and a Portland cement substitute that is 100 times better because it is so impermeable to water,” Scola says. “Water is what destroys Portland cement, which is the second most utilized product in the world. Through nanotechnology, we can make ceramic concrete that is so strong that water does not permeate it. We can make a better product line with the waste created and a better end-use product that is available on the marketplace, giving a much longer life span than what traditional products do today.”
Another huge advantage is the removal of actual IBA out of the landfill storage system, increasing capacity and the overall lifespan of landfills. IBA, in and of itself, is harmful. Bottom ash, when gathered in large quantities, heats up and burns through landfill liners, leaking out into the aquifer or nearby bodies of water.
“The EPA has identified that 85 percent of the landfills are leaking, and its only a matter of time before 100 percent of them are leaking,” Scola says. “Now the chemical is leaking into the aquifer and basically going right into the reservoir and contaminating the pond. When you factor in that bottom ash equates to about 50 percent of the solids going into the landfill, you can extend the life of your landfill by 50 percent if you can stop the ash from going into the landfill. In today's world, that is gigantic because, for the most part…they're running out of air space.”
In addition, IBAgreen's core strategy of manufacturing products on site at waste-to-energy plants also is designed to maximize the positive impacts of its business. Given that most waste-to-energy plants are located in densely populated urban areas, the company anticipates that it can help to create more jobs at a time when jobs are desperately needed, and especially in areas that need them most.
The growth potential for IBAgreen is seemingly as unlimited as the benefits the company brings, both economically and environmentally. Besides eliminating pollution and chemicals in the environment and making products with longer life spans, it's also creating jobs for the economy as well. The company's scope isn't limited to the U.S. either, as international governments have already taken notice of the near-term and long-term benefits the company can provide. As long as the world continues to produce trash, and people continue to need roads and buildings, there will always be a demand for what IBAgreen is bringing to the table.