The European Union's response to recent public health crises such as the outbreaks of BSE and foot and mouth disease has prompted a EUREKA project to develop a more effective and safer method for destroying potentially infected animal wastes.
"The EU has issued directives designed to eradicate BSE, which require the destruction of 'Specific Risk Materials' (SRM - specific organs or tissues that could contain BSE) and carcasses, to prevent them from entering the food chain," explains Juan Antonio Gascon, R&TD Manager at the Spanish project partner, Ekotek, and the project manager of E! 2742 PLASMER.
Spanish engineering and environmental specialists Ekotek approached the UK partner Tetronics to work together to adapt Tetronic's existing techniques for treating inorganic waste using plasma technology.
Jas Manik, Sales & Marketing Manager for Tetronics, describes how plasma technology can be applied to waste treatment. "The plasma's high temperature (10,000 degrees Celsius) and high levels of ultra-violet light combine to destroy toxic organic species and to melt hazardous inorganic materials. In the PLASMER project we applied this technology to treat SRM from BSE-infected livestock."
One problem the team faced was adapting technology, originally designed to treat inorganic material, for use on mainly organic SRM, in particular, how to deal with the increased water content and the combustible gases generated during gasification.
"The partners share the same objective and bring their particular strengths to the project. This sharing of knowledge gives the product a competitive edge and contributes to the wealth of Europe in general.
"We tried to reduce the amount of extra heat, and therefore extra power, required to break down water by drying the waste wherever possible. For SRM we inject the watery liquid directly into the plasma to ensure complete and controlled treatment," explains Manik.
Plasma technology is economically viable even on a small scale and can reduce the cost of treating SRM by 20-40%. It can handle any waste in any form, has no toxic by-products, and undesirable emissions are virtually eliminated. Thus it will provide a sustainable solution to the problem of the elimination of SRM waste facing the EU and financial benefits for the project partners.
"The market for PLASMER technology is not only the EU but also countries throughout the world where BSE is detected," says Gascon, who expects profits to reach 2 million Euro within four years.
All this has been made possible through EUREKA. "The partners share the same objective and bring their particular strengths to the project. This sharing of knowledge gives the product a competitive edge and contributes to the wealth of Europe in general," says Manik.