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Trash Talk: Options for Converting Our Solid Waste to Energy

Trash Talk


On April 7, 2011 the Green Sciences & Environmental Policy Discussion group hosted a panel discussion titled Trash Talk: Options for Converting Our Solid Waste to Energy. New York City produces almost 19,000 tons of municipal solid waste per day, most of which is transported out of the state to landfills in the region. The costs and environmental effects of this process are increasingly unsustainable, and innovations in waste-to-energy technologies have brought their potential for implementation in New York City back into public debate.

Moderator Nada Anid, Dean of the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences at New York Institute of Technology, opened the event with a brief introduction to the chemistry and significance of municipal waste processes in megacities. She explored the many reasons why managing municipal waste in urban areas is increasingly important and why it will require continued technological innovation. With the large amount of waste produced and diminishing funding to address it, waste-to-energy technologies are increasingly attractive to municipal governments.

Nickolas Themelis, Director of Earth Engineering Center Columbia University, gave a brief of history of why waste-to-energy has not been implemented in New York City and discussed currently viable technologies around the U.S. and the World that could be viable for the city. While emphasizing the need for continued and increased recycling, he provided data that showed waste-to-energy technologies are an environmentally, physically, and financially attractive solution for the city.

David Demme, a representative from SAIC Energy & Infrastructure, focused on anaerobic digestion of waste into energy, a process that uses biological organisms to convert organic materials into methane and water in the absence of oxygen. He discussed projects in the U.S. and globally that are currently using anaerobic digestion to convert food waste to energy. Considering local endeavors, Demme highlighted a feasibility study conducted at the Hunt's Point food distribution system in the Bronx. The study found that Hunt's Point has a large stream of waste available to convert to energy, several viable locations to place the conversion facility, and the ability to produce significant cash flow from the sale of the electricity produced.

Mark Paisley, Chief Technology Officer of Taylor Biomass Industries, covered gasification, a thermal reaction of waste with water and air that converts biomass into a gas product that can be converted to electricity via combustion. Paisley gave a technical summary of the technology implemented by Taylor Biomass in their plant in upstate New York. He also explained the physical and environmental attributes of the facility and how these could be altered to integrate such a plant into New York City.

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Presented by:

  • The New York Academy of Sciences

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  • Pepsico

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Nada Anid

School of Engineering and Computing Sciences, New York Institute of Technology
e-mail | publications

Nada Anid is the first female dean of NYIT's School of Engineering and Computing Sciences. In this role, she oversees 77 engineering and computing sciences faculty members and approximately 1,700 graduate and undergraduate students at campuses located in Manhattan and Old Westbury, NY, the Middle East, and China. Anid is among the first engineers to study the role of vitamin B12 and other organometallic coenzymes in the dechlorination of important toxic compounds such as carbon tetrachloride and polychlorinated biphenyls. Her current research is in the fields of renewable energy, sustainability, emerging technologies, and engineering education. She holds leadership positions in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Society for Engineering Education, and the US Engineering Deans Council, among others. Anid earned her PhD in environmental engineering from the University of Michigan, and Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in chemical engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH-Stockholm). Prior to joining NYIT, she was chair and graduate program director of the Chemical Engineering Department at Manhattan College.


David Demme

SAIC Energy, Environment & Infrastructure, LLC

David Demme has more than 30 years of experience in the areas of planning, design, feasibility analysis, alternative delivery procurements, public-private partnering, and project management. He has been involved in the solid waste conversion technology and waste-to-energy (WTE) business for over 25 years. Early in his career, he gained hands-on experience designing WTE facilities for a builder/operator. He has since held a number of management positions in the WTE industry. Demme's record includes management of more than 20 solid waste feasibility-related projects. He has written the procurement documents, reviewed contractor proposals, evaluated project feasibility, and negotiated contracts for numerous WTE projects. Demme's work not only involves reviewing the technical aspects of projects, it involves financial analysis and economic modeling as well. In 2010 he managed a feasibility study for an anaerobic digestion project to manage food waste on Hunts Point in New York City. Demme holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University and an MBA from the University of Connecticut.

Mark Paisley

Taylor Biomass Energy, LLC

Mark Paisley is internationally recognized as an expert in gasification technologies, specializing in biomass gasification. He is the inventor of the Taylor Gasification process and inventor or co-inventor of several other gasification technologies including the SilvaGas® process. Paisley was in charge of the initial development of a major biomass gasification process at Battelle Memorial Institute. Paisley has over 40 years of experience with gasification technologies and energy and chemical value recovery from fuel and residue materials. He has extensively published articles relating to biomass gasification and fuel conversion technologies. As an expert in the renewable energy field, Paisley authored the Biomass Energy section for the online Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. Paisley is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the Biomass Energy Research Association. He also serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Biomass Energy Research Association. Paisley is a Registered Professional Engineer who received his BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cincinnati. Graduate work in chemical engineering was completed at the University of Akron in Ohio.

Nickolas J. Themelis

Earth Engineering Center, Columbia University
e-mail | website | publications

Nickolas Themelis is the inventor of the Noranda Smelting and Converting Process that has reduced sulphur emissions by millions of tons, and he founded the Earth Engineering Center in 1996. In 1997 Themelis led the transformation of the historic School of Mines to the new engineering discipline of Earth and Environmental Engineering that now includes the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy and the Water Resources Center. He has been elected to membership in the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and he is an active member of the New York Academy of Sciences. Themelis is also the recipient of several professional awards, the author of over 200 technical papers and books, and the inventor of over twenty patented technologies.


  • The New York Academy of Sciences

Gold Sponsor

  • Pepsico

Silver Sponsor

  • Blue Highway