GCI TECH NOTES©
15, Number 3
Environmental Sustainability of the Sharps PELLA-DRX™ Product
Sharps Compliance has created a patent-pending process to convert medical waste into a safe and useful raw material, PELLA-DRX™. PELLA-DRX™ is the end product of Waste Conversion Process™ (WCP), a stringent method that renders the origin of the product indistinguishable while removing associated hazards from the medical waste. The WCP processes medical waste that is traditionally incinerated or autoclaved and sent to landfills, and repurposes it into a resource used to make new products applicable to a wide range of energy intensive industries.
PELLA-DRX™ is made of shredded and sterilized sharps medical waste which has been quality-checked and compressed into clean, safe and compact PELLA-DRX™ pellets. The Waste Conversion Process™ renders the medical waste unidentifiable, as sterile as sterile surgical instruments, and ready for use in energy intensive industries for repurposing.
Since there are a variety of places that PELLA-DRX™ might go to be used as fuel some basic assumptions for this analysis will be made. Initially it looks like PELLA-DRX™ will be used mostly by cement plants as fuel. There are about 100 cement plants in the United States so it is anticipated that eventually each PELLA-DRX™ manufacturing location will be within a few hundred miles of a cement plant.
In the cement process any ash in PELLA-DRX™ becomes part of the finished cement product, so the material is 100% repurposed into fuel and cement. Cement is made up of calcium, silica, alumina and iron. These are the same ingredients that make up the ash in PELLA-DRX™. All laboratory testing of PELLA-DRX™ to date reveals that it has better heat content and lower sulfur than the coal typically used as the primary fuel in the cement industry. That means that it has the advantage of replacing more coal on a ton for ton basis.
Every ton of coal PELLA-DRX™ replaces does not require mining and transportation. Given the location of coal mines and cement plants around the country, as well as potential locations to manufacture PELLA-DRX™, PELLA-DRX™ should come out better on average regarding transportation associated emissions. When you factor in that the waste materials going into PELLA-DRX™ would otherwise need to be transported to a landfill, then PELLA-DRX™ is clearly a better option in regards to transportation.
Every ton of PELLA-DRX™ produced is a ton of waste materials that does not need to go to a landfill or for incineration. Even if medical waste is incinerated or used in a waste-to-energy facility there is a need to dispose of the ash in a landfill, but not with PELLA-DRX™. In fact, even for wastes that may still require incineration, such as used medications, Sharps is developing the capability to incorporate that ash into the PELLA-DRX™ product and further reduce land-filling of wastes. In addition, there are additional environmental benefits by reducing the amount of overburden and other residuals requiring disposal from the mining of the coal that PELLA-DRX™ replaces.
Emissions to the Atmosphere
Every ton of PELLA-DRX™ replaces more than a ton of coal with no increase in emissions from the cement manufacturing process (and a potential decrease depending on the kiln design and use of other alternative fuels). The PELLA-DRX™ manufacturing process requires the use of a relatively small amount of electricity to run the pellet mill equipment and quality control instrumentation. The emissions from this electricity production will vary depending on the location in the country and source of electricity in that location. This impact is minimal and could be comparable to the electricity used to grind and process coal prior to and at the cement plant. Emissions from transportation are a net benefit as discussed in the transportation section. Further emissions from incineration, or alternatively, biodegradation in a landfill are completely avoided.
Concentrations of heavy metals in PELLA-DRX™ have been tested and shown to be quite low and well within the normal range found in cement plant raw materials and fuels. Because of the special concern over the potential for mercury emissions, Sharps maintains an in-line continuous mercury analyzer to prevent the inadvertent introduction of any mercury into PELLA-DRX™. An in-line continuous radiation monitor is similarly maintained to insure that radioactive materials are not introduced into the PELLA-DRX™ manufacturing process.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions
There are two ways that the use of PELLA-DRX™ can reduce a cement plant’s GHG emissions. First, PELLA-DRX™ as a fuel has more hydrogen and less carbon in its chemical structure than the coal it replaces. This results in lower direct GHG emissions when it is used as a fuel. Second, up to 30% of the PELLA-DRX™ matrix is made of paper products which are derived from trees and therefore represent a renewable fuel source that does not contribute to long term increases in GHG levels in the atmosphere. Avoidance of the methane emissions that would have been produced if the waste materials that go into PELLA-DRX™ had been land-filled is an added bonus to a positive impact on GHG emissions.
While a quantitative evaluation is not possible at this time, the generic qualitative analysis performed above is quite positive. A quantitative analysis could be done in the future for specific medical wastes from a specific location going to a specific treatment facility and from there going to a specific cement plant. When one looks at this generic analysis it is difficult to see any sustainability issue where PELLA-DRX™ does not come out ahead of any alternative. Sustainability is positively impacted in all significant areas by using the PELLA-DRX™ process to lower emissions and to decrease the land-filling of waste materials.
PELLA-DRX™ and Waste Conversion Process™ are trademarks of Sharps Compliance, Inc.