Saturday, September 22, 2018

When Bombay overtook Calcutta: A history of India's financial geography

When Bombay overtook Calcutta: A history of India's financial geography

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
To the current generation of scholars of finance and economics, this question of when Bombay (now Mumbai) overtook Calcutta (Kolkata) would sound absurd. A competition between Calcutta and Bombay over financial domination? That was a thing?
Calcutta did not just compete but was once a much larger financial centre than Bombay. Older textbooks mention both Calcutta and Bombay as financial centres, with some preferring Calcutta over Bombay.
Charles Kindleberger, in his excellent 1974 essay The Formation of Financial Centers: A Study in Comparative Economic History, shows how major banks concentrate in political and commercial capitals leading to development of financial centres. Calcutta was not just the political but also the commercial capital of British. The trade volumes from Bengal were higher than Bombay for most part of the time period between 1871 and 1939.
Accordingly, when the East India Company decided to establish joint stock banking in their Indian colony, they started in Calcutta in 1806 followed by Bombay nearly 34 years later in 1840 (the one in Madras was found in 1843).
Just like trade data, the Bank of Bengal was also much larger than the Bank of Bombay for much of the history of the Presidency banks. This was mainly due to Bank of Bengal catering to a much larger population compared to Bank of Bombay. On top of this, more regions were accorded to Bank of Bengal compared to the two Presidency banks.
Given the large population, the Bank of Bengal captured larger deposits as well. One indicator of importance in this case is the volume of government deposits, which were much larger in Bengal given it was the political capital as well. The dominance continued till 1913 but Bombay was slowly closing the gap, as we saw in the trade data.
Moving on from banking, we also see larger number of companies being floated in Bengal compared to Bombay. Nearly 45-50% of Indian companies were floated in Bengal compared to Bombay’s share of 13-15%. By 1918, Calcutta and Bombay controlled 43% and 40% respectively of rupee companies and 73% and 19% for sterling companies. This again showing dominance of Calcutta over Bombay, especially in sterling markets mainly due to tea companies.
In per capita comparisons, though, Bombay was better placed than Calcutta. This indicates the relative prosperity of Bombay compared to Calcutta. For instance, the Bank of Bombay collected four times more deposits per person than Calcutta.
Even in terms of companies, we see Bombay having higher paid-up capital.
The next question, then, is when did Bombay eventually accelerate past Calcutta? One gets some cues from clearing house data. The clearing houses were established by Presidency banks and local banks to settle intra-bank payments. This continuous time-series gives more clarity on the evolving trends across clearing houses established in different parts of the country.
In 1913, total clearing house transactions were Rs65,035 lakh with Calcutta settling 51% of these transactions compared to Bombay’s share of 33.7%. Madras had a meagre share of 3.6%. Delhi was insignificant.
However, the gap between Calcutta and Bombay narrowed with each subsequent year. In 1947, the shares became almost equal. In fact, 1947 becomes the inflection point as from that point onwards, Bombay starts to gain over Calcutta. In 1950, Bombay’s share was nearly 6% higher than Calcutta. By 1965, Calcutta’s share had declined to 28% and Bombay was at 35%. The share of Madras is constant at 5-6% since 1947.
The share of Delhi (New Delhi later) becomes larger over time as well, mainly due to large banks such as the Punjab National Bank and Oriental Bank of Commerce that migrated from Pakistan and made their head office in Delhi.
It must be noted that from 1947 onwards, major gains are made in other clearing houses as well. This was due to efforts made to open clearing houses in other smaller centres. It was now no longer just a fight between Calcutta and Bombay. The payment and settlement system also evolved significantly over the years. Earlier, clearing houses were the only players in the game. Now they were one of the players.
Thus, it was around independence that Bombay eventually replaced Calcutta as the leading financial centre. Why did this happen?
Bimal C. Ghose points to several factors in 1943’s A Study of Indian Money Market:
• The world wars weakened the position of Calcutta significantly. In particular, World War II was severe on Calcutta’s economy with the virtual closure of the Calcutta port (RBI History, Volume I). This led to a decline in business in Calcutta affecting local money markets and banking.
• The fate of the Calcutta port made Bombay the colony’s numero uno port. Bombay was always much more naturally suited to being a port compared to Calcutta. After all, Bombay in Portuguese means “good bay”. The Calcutta port was 80 miles up the river from the sea, making it difficult for cargo ships. Bombay was nearer to the Suez Canal and received the bulk of imports from Europe. The shipping rates were also higher in Calcutta. Thus, with maritime trade concentrating in Bombay, the finance sector followed as well.
• Development of railways linked Bombay to not just the Deccan (which was the original purpose) but to Punjab as well. The port of Karachi was closer to Punjab, but Bombay was preferred, given the railway connectivity.
• Indigenous bankers in Bombay offered exceptional facilities and translated their practices into formal banking.
• Bombay was also home to three important markets: stock exchange, cotton and bullion. Calcutta just had jute, which was mainly exported. There was the Calcutta Stock Exchange but the one in Bombay was much older and more significant, perhaps due to its proximity to western financial centres.
Claude Markovits, in his 2011 Premier Industrial Centres Bombay and Calcutta, further adds that the response of entrepreneurs in the two regions to shocks was very different. The ones in Bombay responded to shocks by pivoting to different business opportunities. The same was not the case with Calcutta-based entrepreneurs.
India also saw a large number of banking failures during the period 1915-65, with nearly 1,500 banks closing in the country (based on the writer’s analysis, drawn from various issues of statistical tables related to banks in India). Out of these, 126 banks closed in Bombay whereas nearly 360 banks closed in Bengal. The closure was severe in Bengal from 1947 onwards (after becoming West Bengal), with 168 closing in the period 1947-65 whereas just 13 closed in the Bombay region in the same period.
The large-scale failures in Bengal were partly due to Partition and partly due to poor management of these banks. This wide gap in failures of banks undoubtedly helped strengthen the case of Bombay as the financial centre.
Another factor is the choice of location of India’s central bank. The location of the central bank is an important factor, as suggested by Kindleberger. John Maynard Keynes and Sir E. Cable made a memo on establishing a central bank in India in 1914. The two cities put forth as potential sites to headquarter the bank were Calcutta and, believe it or not, Delhi. Bombay was not even considered. Delhi was preferred then as it was considered independent of the three Presidency bank offices!
However, by the time of the RBI’s formation in 1935, the contest was between Calcutta and Bombay. The former represented the past and the latter was the future. Thus it was decided to make both cities joint headquarters for India’s central bank. Indeed, the first board meeting was held In Calcutta:
Calcutta and Bombay being the most important commercial and financial centres in the country, it became the practice of the Governors to divide their time approximately equally between these two places (apart from brief visits to other centres) in conformity with the spirit of these recommendations. The Bank also acquired residential accommodation for the Governor in the two cities.
However, the then-governor James Taylor made a request to shift the head office to Bombay in 1937:
The experience of the last two years has shown that the present practice of migrating from one centre to another throws an impossible burden on the administration of the bank and involves great waste of time and duplication of work. 
His request was acceded and in December 1937, the central office was permanently transferred to Bombay. However, the governor continued to shuttle between Calcutta and Bombay. In 1949, on then-governor B. Rama Rau’s request, Calcutta House was sold off, making Bombay the sole location of the Indian central bank.
This decision was obviously due to Bombay emerging as a major financial centre. But the shift of the central bank further reinforced the trend and led to more financial activity shifting to Bombay. This is also reflected in the clearing house trends and banking failures shown above.
Overall, this history of financial geography is quite illuminating as it tells you a lot about how several forces shape (and break) financial centres. In India’s case, this is even more so, given the interplay and politics between colonial and domestic interests. The author will be happy to engage with interested readers on this subject.
Bimal C. Ghose (1943), A Study of Indian Money Market, Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta
Charles P. Kindleberger (1974), "The Formation of Financial Centers: A Study in Comparative Economic History", Princeton Studies in International Finance No.36
Claude Markovits (2011), "Premier Industrial Centres Bombay and Calcutta" in The Oxford Anthology of Indian Business, edited by Medha Kudaisya, Oxford University Press, Delhi
RBI (1970), History of Reserve Bank of India (1935-51) Vol. 1, Times of India Press, Bombay
Amol Agrawal is a PhD student at IIM Bangalore working on Indian banking history. He writes a blog called Mostly Economics.
Comments are welcome at

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Versova-Bandra Sea Link--2018 PLAN


Reliance Infra-led venture to build Versova-Bandra Sea Link

Reliance Infra-led venture to build Versova-Bandra Sea Link

17.17-km bridge to cost nearly Rs. 7,000 crore, be ready by 2023

The consortium of Reliance Infrastructure and Astaldi S.p.A of Italy have successfully bid to construct the 17.17-km Versova-Bandra Sea Link (VBSL) for Rs. 6,993.99 crore, beating those made by L&T-Samsung JV and Hyundai Development Company-ITD JV. The tender was floated by Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).
The bid amount is higher than estimate of Rs. 6,426 crore made by Louis Berger, who were appointed in January as consultants. “The proposed cost was increased to a little over Rs. 7,000 crore due to a steep rise in steel prices, and the interest to be paid on the mobilisation of the advance amount (5%, or Rs. 350 crore),” a senior MSRDC official said.

The VBSL is thrice as long as the 5.6-km Bandra-Worli Sea Link, and will run from Bandra Reclamation to Nana-Nani Park in Versova. It will connect to Carter Road and Juhu Koliwada. Close to 40,740 vehicles are expected to use the VBSL in 2023, mostly cars, and commuters may have to pay Rs. 250 for the entire stretch. Officials said construction will start after the monsoon, and is expected to be completed by 2023. Toll will be charged till 2052, according to initial projections.
The MSRDC will be providing around five hectares in Juhu Koliwada for a casting yard. The official said clearances for the land should come in a few months, and Reliance Infrastructure is also looking for more sites along the coast. “We will give them the option to take the land. It is up to them to decide whether they want to take it or not.”
The VBSL is part of the Coastal Road project. The BMC is executing the south end of the project, which will connect Princess Street, Marine Lines to the Bandra Worli Sea Link.
BMC had made a provision of Rs. 1,500 crore in its current budget, and the tendering process is on.


Bandra-Versova Sea Link



UIDAI’s Aadhaar Software Hacked, ID Database Compromised, Experts Confirm

Skilled hackers disabled security features of Aadhaar enrolment software, circulated hack on Whatsapp.

Sunday, September 2, 2018


Top stories

An ecosystem of fear?
Times of India · 1 hour ago

An ecosystem of fear? - Times of India Blogs › Blogs › India Blogs
2 hours ago - The arrest of several rights activists across the country on charges of having Maoist links has created deep disquiet among many commentators ...

An ecosystem of fear?

September 3, 2018, 7:00 am IST in City City Bang Bang | India | TOI
The arrest of several rights activists across the country on charges of having Maoist links has created deep disquiet among many commentators. Accompanied as it is, by a new label- ‘Urban Naxals’, it is being seen as a sign that this government is determined to act against all signs of dissent and build a narrative of the country being under threat from organised internal forces.
And yet, there are those that argue that nothing dramatically new is happening. The law under which the action has been taken was strengthened by the UPA government, and some like Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira have been imprisoned even under previous regimes. Also, the fact that so many commentators have been able to criticise the government in the harshest possible terms is being pointed to as a sign that the freedom of expression is alive and well.
While it is true that previous governments also have a poor track record when it comes to dealing with dissent, there is no question that there is a difference today. That there is a clear attempt to create an atmosphere of fear, is possible to discern when one examines all the actions taken by the government. The production of fear at scale is being achieved not only through harsh punitive measures, but through a complex and elaborate network of actions, real and symbolic.
The case of media is illustrative. Media, for instance, has been subject to pressure and arm-twisting before. The raid on NDTV apart, most other actions deemed coercive, including the removal of key voices critical of the government, have been taken by the owners of media platforms and not by the state directly. One can infer that the state was indirectly responsible for the same, but the question is, why should media owners, hardly unused to facing political pressure give in this time around? There is no special leverage that this government has that previous regimes didn’t. But the clear feeling among media circles is that this time around, the sense of threat is more palpable. This government is deemed capable of much more than what it has actually done; the fear is evoked by latent violence in the body language of the government rather than in its actions alone. ‘Violence in the air’ is a more effective way of fostering self-censorship than any direct method.
But there is another variable at work. In the case of media, the problem does not stem only from fear, but also from greed. The taming of media is largely a voluntary phenomenon, guided by a desire to cater to one’s commercial self-interest by deferring to the needs of the market. When one outlet of the same media house can take an ideological line completely at odds with another, it is clear that fear alone is not at work. Market segmentation is. The state uses both levers, fear and greed to get most of media in line.
And then there is social media where keyboard warriors create a new vocabulary of fear with predictable regularity. Individuals are targeted, new labels are created, lists are generated and campaigns are launched to build a narrative of fear. The reward for these non-official soldiers is a dizzying rise from obscurity and in some cases, the promise of official recognition and rewards. Even bureaucrats and serving officers have an incentive to speak and act on behalf of the government. The differential treatment meted out to those that amplify the government’s line and those that don’t is stark.
The orchestration of fear is carried out with finesse. Fear reproduces itself thanks to the elegant design of the ecosystem of intimidation that is in place today. The more commentators connect the dots and discern larger intent from everyday actions, the more actively they participate in the production of fear. Showing signs of fear itself becomes proof- unless you are an anti-national, why should you be afraid?
The calibrated use of reward and punishment, the taking of action against victims rather than perpetrators, the penetration of virtually every institution that matters, the creation of voluntary and vocal cheerleaders for the actions of the state, the regular encouragement given from the highest level of the government to those that carry out intimidation, the periodic acts of brutal violence that indicate that the threats are not only symbolic in nature, the breeding of several kinds of private armies that publicly display their muscle, the succession of violently intemperate statements made by minor party leaders, and actions like the arrest of activists on charges that that align with the larger narrative that is being built- these are all part of this ecosystem of fear.
The electoral advantages of such a strategy are unclear. The fear of ‘Urban Naxals’ is unlikely to galvanise a significant number of voters, for it is difficult to correlate this with any observed experiences in our everyday lives. The argument that the nation is under threat from such forces, is one that might have great resonance with a small group of diehard supporters, but is unlikely to connect with a wider audience. The conspiracy outlined is far-fetched even by the standards of contemporary political discourse. From the perspective of voters, the ‘enemies’ identified have neither currency nor deep emotional resonance. As a political gambit, it is weak given that it leaves out most key opposition parties from this line of attack. The production of fear might have been carried out very effectively, but it looks unlikely to deliver great electoral effect.
Those that believe that things will change if the BJP is defeated might be deluding themselves. It does not matter who is in power; what matters is who sets the agenda. The power of a negative agenda is that even when one counters it, only more negativity is produced. The fear that has got manufactured does not come with an expiry date. That might well be the abiding legacy left by this government.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.



Monday, August 27, 2018

High-Powered Plasma Turns Garbage Into Gas

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High-Powered Plasma Turns Garbage Into Gas

Photo: Kevin Van Aelst
From the highway, one of the biggest landfills in the US doesn’t look at all like a dump. It’s more like a misplaced mesa. Only when you drive closer to the center of operations at the 700-acre Columbia Ridge Landfill in Arlington, Oregon, does the function of this place become clear. Some 35,000 tons of mostly household trash arrive here weekly by train from Seattle and by truck from Portland.
Dump trucks inch up the gravel road to the top of the heap, where they tip their cargo of dirty diapers, discarded furniture, lemon rinds, spent lightbulbs, Styrofoam peanuts, and all the rest onto a carefully flattened blanket of dirt. At night, more dump trucks spread another layer of dirt over the day’s deposits, preventing trash from escaping on the breeze.
But as of November, not all the trash arriving at Columbia Ridge has ended up buried. On the southwest side of the landfill, bus-sized containers of gas connect to ribbons of piping, which run into a building that looks like an airplane hangar with a loading dock. Here, dump trucks also offload refuse. This trash, however, is destined for a special kind of treatment—one that could redefine how we think about trash.
In an era when it’s getting more and more confusing to determine where to toss your paper coffee cup—compost? recycle? trash? arrrgh!—and when no one seems to have a viable solution to the problem of humanity’s ever-expanding rubbish pile, this plant represents a step toward radical simplification. It uses plasma gasification, a technology that turns trash into a fuel without producing emissions. In other words: a guilt-free solution to our waste problems.
Recycling is all well and good. But it hardly addresses the real problem we have with our household waste: We throw two-thirds of it in landfills while somehow managing to feel virtuous that we put last night’s empty wine bottle in the recycling bin. Surely we could do better, environmentally and economically.
There is, in fact, value in trash—if you can unlock it. That’s what this facility in northern Oregon is designed to do. Run by a startup called S4 Energy Solutions, it’s the first commercial plant in the US to use plasma gasification to convert municipal household garbage into gas products like hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which can in turn be burned as fuel or sold to industry for other applications. (Hydrogen, for example, is used to make ammonia and fertilizers.)
Here’s how it works: The household waste delivered into this hangar will get shredded, then travel via conveyer to the top of a large tank. From there it falls into a furnace that’s heated to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit and mixes with oxygen and steam. The resulting chemical reaction vaporizes 75 to 85 percent of the waste, transforming it into a blend of gases known as syngas (so called because they can be used to create synthetic natural gas). The syngas is piped out of the system and segregated. The remaining substances, still chemically intact, descend into a second vessel that’s roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
This cauldron makes the one above sound lukewarm by comparison. Inside, two electrodes aimed toward the middle of the vessel create an electric arc that, at 18,000 degrees, is almost as hot as lightning. This intense, sustained energy becomes so hot that it transforms materials into their constituent atomic elements. The reactions take place at more than 2,700 degrees, which means this isn’t incineration—this is emission-free molecular deconstruction. (The small amount of waste material that survives falls to the bottom of the chamber, where it’s trapped in molten glass that later hardens into inert blocks.)
The seemingly sci-fi transformation occurs because the trash is blasted apart by plasma—the forgotten-stepsister state of matter. Plasma is like gas in that you can’t grip or pour it. But because extreme heat ionizes some atoms (adding or subtracting electrons), causing conductivity, it behaves in ways that are distinct from gas.
Dozens of firms are racing to find the right formula to use plasma to blast garbage into gas. Yet despite incremental improvements in the technology, plasma gasification has proved too energy- and capital-intensive for real-world use on everyday trash. If the value of the syngas produced doesn’t offset the amount of energy required to power the furnaces and melt the trash, what’s the point?
Now S4 cofounder Jeff Surma may have finally solved that problem. (S4, by the way, refers to the fourth state of matter: plasma.) The 52-year-old chemical engineer is convinced that he can transform garbage from something we toss into something we value—and get it to work on a vast scale. He has already made enough advances with the technology to attract millions of dollars in backing from Waste Management, the $12.5 billion trash hauling, recycling, and disposal behemoth, which owns the landfill here in Arlington.
Still, it’s a long shot. The US generates about 250 million tons of trash a year. Even with recycling and composting facilities tackling an estimated 85 million tons of refuse per year, it would take thousands of new plants much bigger than this one (and another S4 facility being constructed in McCarran, Nevada) to handle the nation’s municipal trash output. That’s a lot of plasma.
Photo: Kevin Van Aelst
On a summer afternoon, Surma steps out of his Mercury Mariner, replaces tasselled loafers with work boots, and dons a yellow hard hat. He has a runner’s physique and a shock of white hair, and wears wraparound sunglasses. Today he’s guiding potential customers from the chemical industry around the Arlington plant, explaining how it all works. Later he confides: “If we’re still here in two years, telling you what we plan to be doing, you can come back and call bullshit on us.”
Here’s a short history of how Surma’s trash blaster came to be: Fresh out of graduate school at Montana State University in 1985, he was hired by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a research facility in Richland, Washington. He was there to work on an especially hideous mess: the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, just down the road. Beginning with the Manhattan Project, the US government cooked most of the plutonium for America’s nuclear weapons arsenal at Hanford. With its nine nuclear reactors, giant plutonium processing plants, and buried tanks of radioactive sludge, the site has earned the dubious distinction of being one of the most contaminated nuclear waste sites in the Western Hemisphere.
Surma’s first project was to work on so-called joule-heated melters, an experimental method for processing nuclear waste. “We basically fed this muddy slurry into a chamber that was heated with coils,” he says, “almost like the coils on an electric stovetop.” This chemical process, known as vitrification, immobilizes radioactive materials in an inert form of glass. By and large, the system worked; the team was able to convert waste into more than 30 four-foot-tall canisters of vitrified glass.
But that pricey and delicate process made sense for only the worst materials on the site. Hanford also has huge quantities of more heterogeneous trash, much of which contains low-level radioactivity. “It couldn’t go to a landfill,” Surma says, but it wasn’t suited to vitrification, either.
Surma went prowling through the literature for other waste-treatment techniques and was soon reading up on tech known as the plasma torch. In the 1960s, scientists at NASA wanted to learn more about the effect of extreme heat on manned spacecraft reentering the atmosphere. They developed plasma torches to mimic those conditions.
Meanwhile, Surma learned, the practice of using plasma for processing waste had been around for decades, primarily in the metal and chemical industries. Oil refineries, for instance, spend $2,000 a ton to dispose of their toxic sludge with plasma gasification. But few people ever gave the technology much serious consideration for treating everyday garbage because of the high energy costs and because the heterogeneity of municipal solid waste makes it that much harder to efficiently untangle.
Jeff Surma wants to transform garbage from something we toss into something we value.
And then there’s the problem of the toxins in heavy metals—materials from busted televisions, microwave ovens, dead batteries, broken thermometers, old paints—which aren’t broken down by plasma. If you don’t want hazardous leftovers making their way into, say, the water supply, you have to find a way to safely sequester the stuff. Those especially nasty substances, of course, were Surma’s specialty.
Around the same time that Surma was looking into all this, a physicist at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center named Dan Cohn was searching for plasma technology’s possible environmental applications. He placed a call to Pacific Northwest, asking if anyone at the lab was doing plasma research, and he was connected with Surma. Before long they were brainstorming how to take the technology beyond merely disposing of specialized toxic waste: They wanted to go after the billions of tons of common household trash.
The next step was to pull in a retired engineer from GE named Charles Titus. He was an expert in high-voltage engineering and had become convinced that metal torches, which tend to get damaged by the very heat they deliver, were the wrong technology. It would be better to create plasma with an electric arc strung between two graphite electrodes. (Titus died in 2007.)
But the trio also knew that if they were going to aim for the massive market in municipal solid waste, they needed a clean system with essentially no byproducts. Otherwise, their technology would look like incineration in disguise. One evening in 1994, over a meat-lover’s pizza and another round of Sam Adams at a Bertucci’s restaurant near MIT, Surma wondered aloud about combining the plasma attack with the vitrification technology he’d mastered at Hanford to handle the nasty leftovers. The concept was captivating, but they would have to find a way to run that kind of machinery without also needing a dedicated hydroelectric dam to power it.
To combine the vitrification and plasma-zapping processes in the same chamber, they needed to keep the molten glass at the bottom of the vessel from cooling down; continuously having to reheat it would interrupt key chemical reactions and could quickly lead to exorbitant energy costs.
Keep it hot. Sounds straightforward, but it isn’t. While the molten soup needs alternating current to maintain steady temperature, the electric arc for the plasma runs on direct current. Titus, the electricity guru, said he could rig the AC/DC combo, and that evening they quickly sketched out details for a system that would enable DC and AC to cohabitate within a plasma gasification furnace jacked up with a melter. This tandem approach, the men realized, promised to provide just enough energy to sustain the plasma and atomize trash, while keeping the glass in a molten state. “But no more energy than that!” Surma says. The next day they wrote up the details in an invention disclosure, a kind of shortcut for protecting an idea in advance of filing a full patent.
Within a few months, the three scientists felt ready to launch a company. Cohn knew a guy who had made a killing selling his frozen-dinner company to ConAgra and was looking to invest in promising technologies. So one afternoon in 1994, in a dimly lit room with mahogany walls at Manhattan’s Chemists’ Club, they presented the melter idea to the frozen-dinner guy, who had brought along a venture capitalist friend to offer advice. Surma, Cohn, and Titus got the money, as well as a complementary booklet of coupons for chicken potpies.
How to
Blast Trash
The plasma-enhanced melter now operating in Oregon breaks down everyday garbage into its constituent atomic elements. Here’s how it works.
Illustration: James Provost
1/ Gasification
A conveyer belt delivers shredded trash into a chamber, where it’s mixed with oxygen and steam heated to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. This process, called gasification, transforms about 80 percent of the waste into a mixture of gases that are piped out of the system.
2/ Plasma Blasting
Material that doesn’t succumb to the initial heat enters a specially insulated cauldron. An 18,000-degree electric arc that runs between two electrodes creates a plasma zone in the center of the container. Exposed to this intense heat, almost all the remaining trash gets blasted into its constituent atomic elements. Again, the resulting gases are piped out and sequestered.
3/ Hazmat Capture
At the bottom of the cauldron sits a joule-heated melter, which is like coils on an electric stove and maintains a molten glass bath that traps any hazardous material left over from the plasma process.
4/ Recycling
Swirling in a taffy-like ooze, the molten glass is drawn out of the system. Now inert, it can be converted into low-value materials such as road aggregate. Metals are captured at this point, too, and later recycled into steel.
5/ Fuel Capture
The sequestered gases, known as syngas—mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen—are cleaned and can be sold and converted to fuels like diesel or ethanol to produce electricity onsite or elsewhere.
They called their company Integrated Environmental Technologies (eventually InEnTec), and in 1995 Surma took a leave of absence from Pacific Northwest to run it. It was slow going at first. Surma and his team of three engineers didn’t finish the prototype melter until 1997. They sold their first commercial units, geared specifically for hazardous waste, in 1999. Early customers included Boeing and Kawasaki, which produce heaps of hazardous waste and have to pay dearly to deal with it. Manufacturers save big money when they don’t have to contract with someone else to dispose of their waste, and gleaning useful materials or gases out of a treatment process only adds to overall savings.
But when InEnTec tried to venture into markets beyond the manufacturing and chemical industries, things always went wrong. Surma sold a unit to a company in Hawaii that used it to process medical waste, but that firm ended up folding. Next, he tried to set up a medical waste processing operation in northern California, this time to be run by InEnTec itself. But a group of impassioned citizens stepped in to oppose the project. They didn’t—or refused to—understand the science of plasma gasification and the absence of emissions. All they heard was “medical waste treatment plant” (and some version of “right down the street”). After an 18-month struggle, Surma jettisoned the project in 2007. It was a moment of truth. He realized that the business had somehow drifted from the founders’ original vision. “It was always our intent, from the very first patent, to go after the municipal solid waste stream,” he says. “But customer pull drew us into hazardous- and medical-waste treatment.”
Surma decided to retrench—to get back to the goal of processing what he calls the granddaddy of waste streams. Together with InEnTec’s chief engineer, Jim Batdorf, he spent three days planted in front of a whiteboard, trying to come up with ways to make it more economically feasible to use the melter on household garbage in all its heterogeneous glory.
The breakthrough alteration they came up with was to stack a conventional gasifier atop the plasma-enhanced melter. The trash undergoes heating and treatment by way of this preliminary gasifier, then moves into the chamber with the plasma zapper and vitrification. It’s like partly defrosting a turkey before putting it in the oven. This strategy improves efficiency because it takes less energy for the plasma to blast materials that have already undergone some heating. The leftovers, meanwhile, drop down into the molten soup, which flows in a slow, taffy-like ooze of glass and liquefied metal out the bottom of the system. At the same time, syngas piped out of the plant can be burned as fuel to, in theory, supply all of the power needed to run the melter itself.
The actual plant built by S4—a wholly owned subsidiary of InEnTec—is still so new that it remains to be seen whether the quality and quantity of Surma’s syngas matches the predictions and test data gathered so far. “The goal is to take waste and produce a product that is used for energy or for some other process,” says Tom Reardon, a vice president with the waste consultancy Gershman, Brickner & Bratton. “They’ve proven they can produce a syngas. But from it, can they produce the fuel they’re supposed to?”
“The easy answer used to be: Store it in a can, put it in a truck, and then send it to a big hole in the ground.”
What Surma didn’t know back when InEnTec was retooling for municipal trash was that, starting in 2005, executives at Waste Management had quietly dispatched a team of experts and consultants to study plasma gasification. If it looked like a worthy technology, they would invest. After a review that lasted more than two years, they determined that InEnTec was one of the few firms in the world whose technology looked viable. In 2008, Surma found himself on a flight to Houston to give Waste Management executives a presentation about his plasma-enhanced melter.
The company’s executives know better than most that we can chuck trash in landfills for only so long. “The easy answer used to be: Store it in a can, put it in a truck, and then send it to a big hole in the ground,” says Carl Rush, a senior vice president at Waste Management. “We’re moving away from that as a society.” Why? People don’t like it, it’s becoming costlier to transport and bury garbage, and—even in the spacious American West—landfills are gradually butting up against more backyards and inching their way toward local water tables.
Trash-to-fuel technology has in fact been around since the 1970s and involves burning waste to generate electricity. But that method, no matter how fancy your emissions scrubbers, invariably produces a stew of byproducts that need to be disposed of. Consequently, environmentalists—and some in the industry itself—have remained skeptical of trash-to-fuel. Nevertheless, Rush and his team suspected that entrepreneurs might have cracked the problem and began searching for experimental technologies to invest in. Among the more than two dozen companies Waste Management has recently added to its portfolio are a startup with a specialized method for producing compost, a firm that uses gasification to turn biomass into synthetic gas, and a company that converts mixed and contaminated waste plastic into synthetic crude oil.
Not all of these startups will make it, and it’s possible that most won’t. But Waste Management bosses hope they will help accelerate the transition to an era in which the very idea of garbage itself is garbage—and they want to be positioned to profit when that time comes.
The INENTEC Hydrocarbon Conversion Test Facility is located next door to Richland’s tiny airport. Inside the cavernous building stands the first prototype of the plasma- enhanced melter, which is less than a third the size of the unit 85 miles away in Arlington. This is where Surma and his team refine and tune the blasting process in an ongoing series of upgrade experiments, melting materials from everyday trash to asbestos, PCBs, hazardous chemical sludge, and discarded electronic equipment. Data gleaned here will help with tweaks at the plant in Arlington and inform the design and operation of S4’s next commercial melters.
Today they’re testing a chemical called toluene, one of the most stable organic compounds there is. That makes it a great substance for assessing the melter’s proficiency at busting things apart, since being chemically stable means toluene is not easily changed or altered without some kind of big input, such as a blast of superhigh heat.
Staring through a circular window into the furnace, I see the cherry-red glow of the plasma. It looks like a cross between lava and a supernova. (If you could somehow stick your arm in there, it would be instantly vaporized.)
Back in Arlington, I catch up with Waste Management’s point person for S4, Joe Vaillancourt. After a tour of the gasification plant, he sits on a desk in the operations room. Plastic still covers the gray carpet, but flatscreen monitors are aglow. “This plant will provide the data to quiet the naysayers,” Vaillancourt says. Once it’s running at full capacity, it will process 25 tons of waste a day.
He stares out the window for a moment, past the S4 facility to the man-made mountain of garbage behind it. Then he nods toward the consoles, where technicians will monitor the machines and chemical brew that will blast tomorrow’s trash to smithereens. “If you don’t want landfills, how could you not want this?” he asks.
Contributing editor David Wolman ( is the author of The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers—and the Coming Cashless Society.
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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mumbai: 10 illegal floors leave residents homeless

Mumbai: 10 illegal floors leave residents homeless

  • Mumbai: 10 illegal floors leave residents homeless
    Only a few families from the Goregaon project now live in Mumbai, many left due to exorbitant rent (PHOTO BY NILESH WAIRKAR)
    A year after HC’s demolition order, BMC plagued with inaction; pleads lack of skilled labour.

    Ten years after redevelopment of a building in Goregaon West, 18 families cannot take possession of their flats as the builder went against the BMC’s plan and built ten additional illegal floors. The families from Deshabhimani Co-operative Housing Society (CHS) near Shreenagar Estate in the suburb are still waiting for the civic body to demolish the unauthorised construction of 6th to 15th floors as per the Bombay High Court order of July 11, 2017.

    While 12 senior citizens passed away awaiting possession, many others found city rentals beyond their means and moved away. Three weeks after moving to Kollam, Kerala in January, Bipin Nair lost his mother Bhagheerathi, 89, and brother Shree Kumar, 64.

    “They passed away within a span of one week. My mother was the owner of the flat and a resident of the society since 1968. In 2008, she and my brother vacated the flat and lived in a rented apartment for which the builder paid Rs 25,000 as rent. They had to move out of that flat in 2013 when the builder stopped paying the rent, as it had gone up to Rs 30,000 per month,” Nair told Mirror, adding that his mother was a pensioner and his brother couldn’t afford the rent either. “My mother was depressed as the home built 45 years ago by my father had been taken away,” he said, adding that the flat is now worth Rs 2 crore but no one is doing anything to give the houses back.

    Techie falls to death from Vakola building

    Like Nair, Vinod Pillai, secretary of Deshabhimani CHS also moved to Kerala with his family. “Initially, we stayed in Goregaon. After the builder stopped paying the rent, we went to Mira Road and then eventually moved to Kerala. In 2011, the BMC had asked the builder to cough up Rs 8.6 crore to regularise the unauthorised floors. The builder moved Supreme Court stating that the penalty was exorbitant. The court ruled in BMC’s favour,” said Pillai.

    According to Pillai, the builder then filed a writ petition in Bombay High Court against the BMC in 2012-13. A year later, Deshabhimani CHS filed a writ petition against the builder, with the court ordering the BMC to demolish the illegal floors.

    “One of the officials from the BMC’s building and factories department said that they were to call for a tender but their computer systems crashed and, with it, their allocated budget for demolishing the structure lapsed. It seems the BMC is working for the builder,” said Pillai.

    Pinkesh Gandhi, chairman of Deshabhimani CHS, said that except four families, others found alternate accommodation in Kerala, Asangaon and Shahpur,” said Gandhi.

    “I have to invite tenders for demolition and need skilled labour for it,” Chanda Jadhav, assistant commissioner, P-South Ward, told Mirror. BJP’s Sandeep Patel, ward committee chairman, who is looking into the issue, said that the society will be forced to file a contempt petition against the BMC as it has been a year since the HC’s order.

    Wednesday, August 8, 2018

    Mumbai metro: Metro aims to be Mumbai's longest rail network

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    Wednesday, June 6, 2018

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