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Turning Waste Into Energy: From Manure To Smoke

Earlier this year, MagneGas Corporation, a technology company that counts among its inventions a technology that converts liquid waste into a hydrogen-based fuel, unveiled its mobile liquid biomass solution. Chem.Info sat down with CEO Ermanno Santilli to talk about how "shooting lightning into a liquid" can turn manure, waste oil and even coal smoke into energy.

Earlier this year, MagneGas Corporation, a technology company that counts among its inventions a technology that converts liquid waste into a hydrogen-based fuel, unveiled its mobile liquid biomass solution. Chem.Info sat down with CEO (and son of technology inventor) Ermanno Santilli to talk about the great strides the company is making toward faster, cleaner, waste conversion. We had to know how "shooting lightning into a liquid," as Santilli colorfully explained their process, could turn manure, waste oil and even coal smoke into energy.

Their  patented technology called Plasma Arc Flow™ is based on flowing the target liquid waste through a submerged electric arc between two electrodes. The arc decomposes the liquid molecules into atoms and forms a plasma around the tips of the electrodes at about 10,000°F / 5,500 C. The Plasma Arc Flow moves the plasma away from the electrodes and controls the formation of clean fuel that rises to the surface for collection.

That process creates a clean-burning, hydrogen-based, cost competitive synthetic gas they call MagneGas that can be made from many liquid wastes, such as sewage, sludge, animal manure, glycerin, used antifreeze, some oil based liquids or waste water. The company currently sells MagneGas into the metal working market as a replacement to acetylene, as well as their equipment for the sterilization of bio-contaminated liquid waste for various industrial and agricultural markets. In addition, they are developing a variety of ancillary uses for MagneGas fuels, utilizing the high flame temperature for co-combustion of hydrocarbon fuels and other advanced applications.  

Liquid Waste Recycling

This year, the company's liquid waste technology received a great deal of attention when their mobile liquid biomass solution was unveiled at the International Biomass Conference & Expo. When we asked Santilli about the choice to focus on liquid waste, as opposed to solid, he said,

"We believe the solid biomass industry is saturated, but liquid biomass is possibly the most abundant renewable source in the world, which is both nutrient rich and nature's best fertilizer. Right now we are one of the only companies offering liquid biomass treatment." 

MagneGas's sludge sterilization technology, using the patented Plasma Arc Flow process, converts liquid waste, such as sewage and agricultural manures, into sterile water that can be used for irrigation and fertilization. 

"With our process, we take the sludge or manure and pump it through the unit, sterilizing at a rate of 1500 gal/ hundred kilowatt. The water instantly vaporizes and then collapses, so you don't lose volume."

The gas that rises to the top of the unit during the process can actually be collected and used, and the liquid is transformed into a Class A waste, which can be immediately used as fertilization. The value proposition to the farmer is that this fertilizer has little to no odor, no retaining pond risks because there is no required waiting period and no need to land apply the waste before use. The system drives disposal costs down and the farmers are able to turn over their land more quickly. 

"Currently we are targeting the swine industry in the United States and the sewage treatment industry in Europe. The swine industry here has several growing challenges such as restrictions associated with odor, land application requirements and retention pond risks. We believe this new technology being offered to the hog industry provides new solutions to old problems that have plagued the swine livestock industry for decades."

MagneGas offers two standard units, 300kW stationary units and 100kW mobile units, each with similar operating characteristics. The larger unit is feasible for large operations, producing more than 4,500 gallon of manure an hour, and the smaller, mobile unit can actually be shared among farmers in close proximity. This unit is completely self-contained and can be transported using a common pickup truck. 

For now, the focus in the U.S. remains in the agricultural sector, but as the regulations here become more and more like those in Europe, this technology will eventually have applications in a lot more industries. Until then, the company is working on ways to remove the heavy metals and pharmaceuticals often found in human waste, so that they'll be ready when those changes occur. 

Industrial Waste Processing 

The bread and butter of MagneGas is definitely their metal-cutting gas, which they currently sell. Using the same Plasma Arc Flow technology, the company takes waste oils, instead of manures, and gasifies them into a fuel that can be used in place of acetylene. Using polarized hydrogen as the basic component, MagneGas concentrates the heat energy in the primary cone, producing outstanding results with a thermal density in the flame bigger than that of cutting fuels, even though the overall thermal content of MagneGas is less.

"The gasification mode produces a denser, richer gas, which has a very high flame temperature, meaning you can cut metal faster, while heating the surrounding metal less, which means less wasted heat and warping. And because you’re heating the surrounding metal less, you get less smoke."

This technology is especially prudent as emissions restrictions become more and more strict. MagneGas combustion exhaust contains no toxic substance and it is composed of about 65% H2, 30% Co and the rest is atmospheric gases. This year the company has been working with the Navy as they make the necessary move away from metal-cutting fuels that impose too much residue-burning heat on aging painted surfaces.


The most exciting part of the business is the co-combustion technology, which the company is currently focusing on in multiple locations across the globe. This year they've been carrying out verification tests with power companies and independent labs to confirm their internal results, and the results have, thus far, been positive. 

MagneGas fuel has a very high combustion flame temperature of 10,500 F or 5,800 C (as independently verified by the City College of New York), and when their gas is burned with other hydrocarbons there is a dramatic decrease in emissions. Coal, for example, burns at about a 35% efficiency and a lot of that energy is lost in smoke. The MagneGas technology takes that smoke and transforms it from a waste stream to an energy stream, increasing efficiency while also reducing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide emissions. 

"The growth in metal cutting and manure treatment is going to be more organic and slow. Once we prove that CO2 can be reduced, and those results are published, we believe that there will be an explosion of interest in our solution. We know that it could be five or ten years before this is widespread, but we hope to have a pilot running within a year – so that the world can demonstrate how this can work." 


As restrictions to companies' environmental impact become tighter and tighter, this kind of technology becomes more and more relevant and exciting. While the company's co-combustion technology, arguably the most intriguing part of the business, is still in the testing phases, once it crosses the threshhold into the mainstream, there may be no end to the technology's applications. MagneGas is most definitely a company to watch as they continue to develop and perfect clean and safe methods of waste disposal.  



For more information on MagneGas, please visit