Google images of “Trash Dump” and not one desirable image is returned. Yet, we continue to use this technology somehow believing that if we can bury our refuse it will no longer exist. Google Liquid Nitrogen and plenty of examples of science experiments will be returned, most detailing how room temperature solids become remarkably brittle. Search long enough and you’ll come across the concept of cryogenic grinding, where food items are ground into fine powders while chilled. However, Google the notion of cryogenically processing municipal solid waste and only tire reclamations can be found.
Taking the common science demonstration to the extreme, we could create a processing plant that would embrittle municipal solid waste using liquid nitrogen and process the material down to a particle size of 1 micron, which is the size of a cigarette smoke particle. At this particle size we would dramatically reduce the space of the material, reduce the forces necessary to process the powder, and destroy any form of containerization or entanglement the incoming material might have, leaving a highly enriched, but chemically inert blend of post industrial resources ready for separation and refinement. In real terms, it would be as though we had discovered a mine capable of producing non-biological materials, such as the familiar metals gold, copper, platinum, palladium, zinc, tin, brass, aluminum, iron, steel, glass, petroleum, and plastics, as well as producing biological materials such as cotton, and paper.
While cryogenic grinding is already in use producing powdered spices, production would have to be scaled up to handle typical municipal waste streams. Potential chemical contaminates, such as heavy metals or green-house gasses would be removed and safely contained during processing. Powder being shipped to other sites for refinement would have to be containerized. Powder being refined on site would require a series of electromechanical, biological, and chemical, processes to be sequenced to remove as much value as possible from the input stream.
This innovation would solve many different problems all at once. Municipalities would generate new income by selling their refuse as powder. Mining companies could buy the material and feed it to their refiners as a higher quality resource, while benefitting from the reduced cost. Refiners would be working with higher quality raw material, increasing their recovery rate. Over 200 years worth of forgotten and often toxic municipal trash dumps could be processed, removing sources of toxic waste from the land forever. As a nation, strategic materials could be recovered, stockpiled, and released into the market as needed to provide price stability. Given the vast amount of captured pollutants, to include carbon, the carbon credits could be sold for a profit.
Waste management companies and independent municipalities employing this technology would be able to make money removing waste materials, and providing the marketplace with a new source of raw materials. Liquid Nitrogen is as costly to purchase as bottled water. Once chilled, gravitational processes can be used to aid the reduction process.