In 2011, renewable energy accounted for just 9% of total energy consumption in the United States, and just 5% (or 0.45% overall) of that (477 trillion British thermal units [BTU]) was derived from waste. Waste is abundant through the populated world, and Department of Defense (DoD) installations, both fixed and forward, are no exception. The ubiquity of waste and its chemical energy content make it a good alternative fuel choice. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, DoD generated approximately 6,600 tons per day of municipal solid waste (MSW), excluding construction and demolition (C&D) waste. This waste provides a potential to capture approximately 165 megawatts electrical (MWe) of electricity and 500 megawatts thermal (MWT) of waste heat, resulting in a net solid waste reduction to landfills of 6,300 tons per day. In this ESTCP project, Infoscitex Corporation (IST), in collaboration with MSW Power Corporation (MSW Power), evaluated the potential of a distributed waste-to-energy conversion (WEC) system to provide fixed DoD sites with a local, controllable supplemental energy source. The Green Energy Machine (GEM) WEC system, developed by IST and productized by MSW Power, was demonstrated at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California.

Technology Description

The GEM system is an integrated, stand-alone, 3 ton-per-day throughput system consisting of three major modular components:

  • Waste Handling. A versatile solid waste preprocessing unit capable of converting a range of waste streams (refuse derived fuel and biomass, such as wood) into waste-based fuel pellets of ideal size, density, and moisture content for gasification.
  • Gasifier. A clean-burning gasification unit capable of generating a low tar, low particulate producer gas of composition suited to produce on-site electricity from an electrical generator.
  • Electrical Generator. An electric generator, originally designed for operating with diesel fuel, was modified to accept producer gas from the GEM gasifier. The modified genset is capable of providing a maximum gross output of 64 kWe, with a net output of 36 kWe (GEM requires 28 kWe).

The GEM was installed by the Edwards AFB landfill and recycling center. While selecting this site seemed intuitive from a logistics and workflow perspective, the physical siting at this location presented some unforeseen hurdles due to permitting. Indeed, operating within California offered unique challenges, and the project experienced significant delays.

Demonstration Results

The system operated for a total of 468 hours with a primary objective of demonstrating the ability of the GEM WEC system to convert MSW generated at a fixed DoD installation into useful energy. Waste composition played a large role in system performance during the demonstration period. A summary of the demonstration’s operating history is provided in the table below.

Operating History of GEM Demonstration at Edwards AFB

Performance Metric

Target Value

Achieved Value

Total GEM Operation (hours)



Total Waste Processed (tons)



Average Waste Processed (pounds/hour)



Max Waste Processed (pounds/hour)



Max Average Ash Output (% of average waste processed)



Total kWh(e) Produced



Peak kW(e) Produced



Net Peak kW(e) Produced



Total kWT Recovered



Specific Power Yield (kWh/ton)



Energy Content of Waste (BTU/pound [kWh/pound])







7331 [2.15]

8399 [2.46]

5804 [1.70]

Gross Electrical Conversion Efficiency [net after parasitic use]

18.8% [12.2%]

 Kilowatt hour = kWh

The demonstration plan was devised with a number of specific quantitative and qualitative performance objectives in mind. These, along with results, are summarized below.

Implementation Issues

The following regulatory approvals were required to operate this demonstration:

  1. License to Operate at Edwards AFB
  2. Experimental Exemption from Eastern Kern Air Pollution Control District
  3. Generating Facility Interconnection Agreement with Southern California Edison
  4. Permit Exemption from the Environmental Health Division of CalRecycle