Our Marion, Iowa Project History (Briefly)

The Marion, Iowa Project

 Here isa little background on wastenotIOWA which has been around for over a dozen years as a result of the City of Cedar Rapids and Linn County, Iowa locating a major landfill expansion just outside of the City limits of Marion, Iowa. So as not to be just a "not in my backyard" group, a number of our founding members started to investigate alternatives to landfilling.  The group heard about plasma gasification and Dr. Lou Circeo of Georgia Tech Research Institute. They went to Missouri where Dr. Circeo was working on a project and friendships resulted. Dr Circeo worked on using plasma torches to test heat tiles of the space shuttle and thought this could be used to completely disintegrate municipal solid waste as well as some nasty stuff the military wanted to dispose of turning it into more energy than required to run the process many times over.  As we learned more about the technology through discussions with Dr. Circeo, some trips to Iowa and working with the City of Marion, a project grew. Marion was able to obtain a grant from the Iowa Legislature to do a feasibility study. The study while not glowing as to the feasibility, did not rule it out either.   


In the meantime, we had contact with some companies who were working on various forms of the technology trying to find a business plan that would work. The City of Marion later put out a request for proposal and several companies responded. Plasma Power, LLC of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida was the company that was selected to try to put together a project for the City of Marion as well as Linn County by extension if a project was successful. We learned more and more about the technology and worked to make it viable for Marion. Business plans and opportunities were worked out and more efficiencies were made. A viable business plan was determined however financing of the Marion project was the final major hurdle. Plasma Power wanted any project to be independent of any extraordinary financial incentives so that the plan could be repeatable. This didn't mean basic economic development support was not welcome however, ongoing government tax credits and incentives should not make or break a project. Plasma Power had preliminary construction drawings and engineering specifications with patents. The project should be able to stand on its own with traditional financing. In this process, our wastenotIOWA group was able to work with the Iowa Legislature to include plasma and other waste to energy solutions in the hierarchy of waste remediation that had to be considered ahead of incineration and landfilling. We also educated the public on the technology who seemed to adopt the concept very positively.   


As it turned out, traditional financing was a problem for a community like Marion which could not obtain a long term purchased power agreement nor guarantee adquate waste feedstock for 20 years each as banks required. A community with a municipal electric system as well as municipal waste collection and landfilling would probably be a better prospect than our City of Marion.  Working with the County waste agency was somewhat difficult, not so much politically but there were concerns about jobs provided by thei existing landfilling and resource recovery processes as well as change itself even though the agency's mission statement does point toward reduced need for landfilling.   


Plasma Power is now working with new industrial applications of their processes.  We believe this technology will be the way of the future and that other than a few emergency landfills in the State of Iowa, waste to energy with plasma gasification being the technology of choice.    


Hopefully this is helpful as others venture in to this disruptive technology. We had very good support from the State and most of our questions from the public were, "when will this happen" and not should it. We felt if we could make this happen in Iowa, it would be viable everywhere. Again, we learned a lot and would support other worthy projects however after 12 + years, our group has hit retirement age but could still get enthused about other viable options. The landfill is still near Marion and though it is well maintained, there are still better solutions than burying energy.