The CoronaLux® Process
An incinerator is a furnace for burning waste. This approach was first used nearly 150 years ago, but it has come under increasing criticism in recent decades due to the toxic chemicals these plants emit from their smokestacks. This 19th century technology is simply incompatible with modern desire for clean waste disposal.
As a result, local governments are taking action. In February, Baltimore’s city council voted unanimously to strengthen emissions limits on the Wheelabrator trash incinerator, the city’s largest source of industrial pollution. The city council and mayor supported this measure despite cost concerns about otherwise disposing of 700,000 tons of trash per year in the Baltimore area.
Incinerators also produce a lot of waste byproduct. Typically, their partially burned ash, sludge, and other pollutants end up in landfills. The Wheelabrator facility produced about 200,000 tons of ash in just 2017, which went to landfills in the Baltimore area.
Baltimore is not alone in its desire for cleaner waste disposal. Because of environmental concerns, increased regulation, and desire by communities for cleaner living, the number of U.S.-based incineration facilities has fallen dramatically in recent decades. New incineration facilities are unlikely to receive permits in most U.S. states due to existing environmental requirements.
However, demand for their services is growing, especially in the medical community. U.S. Hospitals and other medical facilities generated about six tons of medical waste in 2015. The amount of regulated medical waste that must be treated or destroyed has grown at 7 to 10 percent a year during the last decade, due to an aging population and new categories of regulated waste.
In explaining her decision to tighten emissions on the city’s large waste incinerator, Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh said, “There are other technologies that are being prepared. Some of them won’t be ready in time for this, but we will have to figure it out.” This is the story of one of the most promising of those solutions.
A new method developed by Paragon Waste Solutions uses a plasma-enhanced process to destroy waste that is sustainable, requires little electricity, and produces none of the ash from incinerators that clog landfills. It is a 21 century answer for the problem of medical waste.
This CoronaLux® process has other benefits. Whereas incinerators have large footprints and towering smokestacks that belch chemicals into the environment, this solution requires no large scrubbing systems or huge machines. They are nondescript and will not provoke the ire of nearby residents or local governments.
The U.S.-based company’s CoronaLux® system has already been tested by health departments and environmental agencies in California, Texas, and Florida, and has received air quality permits to operate in all three states. These reviews confirmed that the company’s medical waste disposal system is good for the environment, both in terms of air quality and a lack of byproducts.
In fact, the CoronaLux® process reduces contaminants by as much as three orders of magnitude. One of the studies conducted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District has shown we are 2,000 times less hazardous than the emissions associated with the Los Angeles highways.
Because of this, they can be deployed throughout a community or region, and reduce the need to transport large amounts of medical waste over great distances. This eliminates most of the associated incinerator freight costs.
So how does this alternative to burning waste work? The CoronaLux® process uses a technique called pyrolysis, which heats materials to break down their chemical bonds, and convert it into less harmful elements. The term pyrolysis has Greek origins, from “pyro,” meaning fire, and lysis, meaning “separation.”
How is this different from just burning something in an incinerator? In pyrolysis, materials are heated in an inert atmosphere, which is not chemically reactive. Within this inert atmosphere there is not the oxygen needed to support fire.
Humans have used pyrolysis for thousands of years. About 4000 BC, humans learned to heat wood in the absence of oxygen to get rid of its water and other components, to produce charcoal. In 1861, a Canadian physician named Abraham Gesner heated coal to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, and produced kerosene fuel for the first time.
With the CoronaLux® process, Paragon has modernized pyrolysis using new technology, such as ion beams, to safely dispose of medical waste in a safe, clean manner.
During the CoronaLux® process, medical waste is placed in an inert environment and typically heated to a temperature of 1650 degrees Fahrenheit. The actual temperature for any given heating cycle will vary based on the nature and composition of the waste, the amount of water content, the density of the material, and other factors. The rate at which medical waste is heated helps determine the composition of the material resulting from pyrolysis.
There are three basic steps to the CoronaLux® process. As heating begins in the primary chamber, moisture outside the waste evaporates, and the temperature within increases. As this happens, more heat is conducted into the center of the waste. The CoronaLux® technology carefully controls the flow of this heat through the waste to minimize undesirable chemical reactions and the production of liquids.
The CoronaLux® operates in low oxygen or vacuum allowing for ultra-specific control of reaction pathways. The flow is laminar or non-turbulent. Typical operating temperatures are considerably lower than an incinerator. The system has unprecedented temperature control, maximizing uniformity and minimizing hot/cold spots. The gases are maintained in a vibrationally excited state where decomposition is accelerated with an electron stream. Residence time is amplified, and reactions are simply given the time they need to complete.
As the primary chamber heats up, the medical solid and liquid medical wastes are converted into a gaseous smoke. Among the chemicals in this smoke are carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds similar to those produced by the burning of gasoline, droplets of oil, water vapor, and other materials.
The next step is to safely process this smoke. A fan circulates the smoke into a plasma chamber, where it is treated by a plasma-generated beam of ions. Ion beams are simply a stream of charged particles, and they are used in a variety of industries, including cancer treatment and spacecraft thrusters.
In this case, the ion beam helps accelerate a process known as free radical oxidation, in which electrons are broken free of the chemical molecules in the smoke. These “free radicals” help accelerate the process of converting harmful chemicals into more benign compounds. They effectively destroy the complex organic compounds and convert carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide.
The final step of the CoronaLux® process occurs when this treated smoke moves through a vent, allowing additional time for the free radicals to perform their conversion work. Eventually, these exhaust gases are released through the chimney.
A single machine built to perform the CoronaLux® process can run two 12-hour cycles per day, destroying a total of three tons of medical waste in a 24-hour period. The machines are small, with a footprint of only 400 sq. feet, and can be placed in parallel so there is never any downtime.
The costs associated with CoronaLux® are low. Due to the efficiency of the process, the electrical cost per cycle is only about $3. Maintenance costs are also low, and because the CoronaLux® process is largely automated, a single human operator can run up to four machines at a time.
CoronaLux® is a batch-based system, meaning that containers of medical waste are accepted as is, removing the need to sort or shred; and the potential for spills, odor release, worker exposure, and other vulnerabilities.
The CoronaLux® process meets the greatest need in medical waste today, providing an environmental and sustainable alternative to conventional incineration. It represents the future of medical waste disposal by pairing the millennia-old process of pyrolysis with 21st century technology.
To quantify the emissions from the CoronaLux® from a macro scale we can look at all pollutant emissions as less than 5 tons per year (tpy) for all pollutants; PM10, CO, NOx, SO2, VOCs, HAPs, and TAPs. If we focus in on the micro scale VOCs are measured in parts per billion and CO is skimming non-detect. In summary, incinerator emissions are measured in hundreds of tons per year, while the CoronaLux® is only putting out a couple pounds. This is why we are the most environmentally friendly medical waste destruction process serving the market today.