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Hospital Healthcare Europe

Technology to turn healthcare waste safely into energy

Derek Parker
1 January, 2008  

Derek Parker
FAIA RIBA FACHA
Chairman
Anshen + Allen (international architectural practice)
San Francisco, CA
USA

The healthcare industry generates an estimated 2.7 million tons of waste each year in the United States alone and spends over $1.5 billion to dispose of that waste. Much of that waste is hazardous, contaminated and medical waste (Figure 1), which is difficult and expensive to sort and eliminate. In the past, many hospitals simply dumped all waste streams together, from reception-area trash to operating-room waste, and burned them in incinerators. Now we know that incineration is a leading source of highly toxic dioxin, mercury, lead and other dangerous air pollutants.

[[HHE07_fig1_F20]]

A growing population, combined with new medical technologies and procedures, has increased the quantity and pace of waste production. In addition, hospitals and research institutes consume large amounts of electrical and thermal energy. In response to the urgent need for a more effective and efficient medical waste disposal technology, Intellergy has developed a patented process and system for onsite medical waste detoxification that also produces syngas, heat and power. Intellergy offers a service at no capital or operating cost to the hospital through which all waste is destroyed and all hazardous elements in the waste stream are rendered inert. Intellergy provides the equipment and the operating expertise to convert the waste stream into valuable eco-products that Intellergy then sells.

The need for Intellergy’s service is intensified by the discovery of deadly communicable diseases such as AIDS, MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), TSLS (toxic shock-like syndrome) and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and the reappearance of other drug-
resistant organisms such as tuberculosis.  

[[HHE07_fig2_F20]]

Ever-increasing regulations, liability and expenses, as well as declining availability, threaten the most popular methods of disposal, landfill and incineration.  

In the United States, the number of incinerators handling medical waste has declined from over 5,000 to under a hundred in the last decade, and the last incinerator in California licensed for medical waste destruction was closed five years ago.

The Intellergy technology, which is approved by the California Department of Health, is the only system other than incineration capable of processing all infectious and hazardous (biohazardous, chemotherapeutic, pathology, pharmacy and chemical) medical wastes. Total disposal costs are lower than those of all competitive technologies. The process destroys the waste, eliminates pathogens and produces large amounts of hydrogen, which can be sold to the huge industrial hydrogen market. An additional option is synthesis of chemical eco-products from the syngas. It is attractive since the synthesis process produces carbon-containing chemical co-products that sequester the carbon. These products provide a significant additional income stream to further improve the economics of the plant. Only a portion of the syngas is used for this synthesis option, whereas the larger remaining portion can be used to create electrical power and thermal energy.

About the Intellergy technology:

  • It is a California-based technology with worldwide application.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are controllable. 
  • There is complete destruction of pathogens.
  • There is an 85% reduction in mass of the waste.
  • The 15% residue is completely inert and can be recycled or placed safely in landfill without fear of groundwater contamination.
  • The market is every hospital and research laboratory in the world. 
  • The system produces useable hydrogen, electricity, eco-carbon products and heat.
  • The California Energy Commission (CEC) and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), with Medergy (a 50–50 joint venture launched by Intellergy with Anshen+Allen), funded in 2003 a successful San Francisco hospital feasibility study.
  • A detailed gas analysis using medical waste from two major US hospitals indicated very clean, hydrogen-rich gas. The critical analysis was completed in August 2005.
  • All glass and metal is rendered sterile, clean and concentrated for recycling.
  • The technology saves the hospital money from day one.