I put a few ideas together to form a new technology. It's my hope that someday we as a planet will actually do this. It would literally transform the world we live in.
In various places around the world, experiments have been performed where solar power is used to boil water to make electricity. They call it a solar furnace. Generally, the way it's done is to use thousands of mirrors to focus sunlight onto one spot. This causes an incredible amount of heat to build up in a small area. This heat is then used to boil water, to make steam, to run steam turbines in the usual way of making power. The technology works, however, it still suffers from problems like intermittent sunlight causing interruptions in operation. But the important point here is, it works.
Solar furnaces easily generate enough heat to boil water. If the furnaces are designed properly, they can get hot enough to do more than that. In fact, solar furnaces can be made so that they reach temperatures of thousands of degrees, far more than is needed to boil water.
All matter, all material things, will vaporize if they are heated sufficiently. This is called ionization. Any physical thing can be vaporized with enough heat. Solar furnaces can get hot enough to vaporize any material thing on Earth. Imagine it. A large array of mirrors, all aimed at one focal point, can generate so much heat that anything, ANYTHING AT ALL, that is put in that focal point will turn into a hot gas, a vapor.
Here is the beginning of true recycling. Take anything that you consider trash, and feed it into a solar furnace, and that item of trash will be totally vaporized by the power of the sun, which means essentially that it happens for free. By that I mean that it doesn't use any kind of fuel to make the intense heat, only sunlight. Obviously there is infrastructure to be maintained, so that nothing is completely free. But my point is clear. Pure sunlight can turn all our trash into a vapor.
This is the first step. Collect the trash, get it to a solar furnace, and all the trash will disappear into a gaseous cloud. You may think, well that's great, but what about the toxic cloud that is caused by all that trash? It's not toxic anymore, you see. When matter is heated sufficiently, all chemical bonds break down. In other words, all chemicals that go into the solar furnace are broken down into their individual atomic elements. If you put paper into the furnace, what comes out is carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. If you put plastics into the furnace, the plastics are reduced to their atomic constituents, typically hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. Dangerous, poisonous chemicals put into the solar furnace come out the same way. They are no longer dangerous, because they are completely broken down by the incredible heat, and all that comes out the other end are elemental atomic gasses.
So far, what we have a very hot furnace, that can take any THING and turn it into a gas. At the very least, it is a clean method of getting rid of all trash, including toxic waste products. Now comes the question, what do we do with all these clean, hot, atomically-pure gasses?
The development of the computer led to the development of the computer printer. That technology is almost old now. It's as commonplace as water. Recently this idea of the printer has been used for other applications. Most remarkable are two innovations. One, the so-called 3-D printer, uses plaster or clay instead of ink. These 3-D printers can literally print physical matter. Complex shapes are manufactured, one thin layer at a time. Some units even use plastic resins, that are sprayed out in a mix that hardens almost instantly. It is a small miracle to watch a physical form emerge from nothing but a fast-drying liquid and a handful of programming. THINGS can be printed-out. As well as inanimate matter, new designs of printers actually spray-out living tissue. That's right, special printers are able to print-out skin tissue. They can even print more complex living things, like organs. We live in an age where it is possible to use computers to PRINT human organs.
Let's bring it all together. We have tons and tons of hot gasses, from all the tons of trash being fed into our solar furnace. These gasses are so hot, in fact, that something special happens to them. If gasses are heated enough, the electrons are stripped-off the nucleus of the atom. What this means in layman's terms is that the gasses can be thought of as a sort-of magnetic gas. Because the gasses are IONIZED, they can be affected by electrical and magnetic forces. If you take a stream of hot, ionized gas, a superheated gas, and hold a magnet near it, the gas stream will bend because of the influence of magnetism. Ionized gasses can be "steered" by magnets. Because ionized gasses can be directed by magnets, the gasses can be put where you want them.
I've already described three types of printers that exist right now. One, the computer printer. Two, the 3-D printer. Three, the human-tissue printer. The point is, printer technology can be used in many different ways. I'm proposing a new way to use printer technology. Design a printer that can use hot gasses, ionized gasses, controlled by magnets, to print matter from the rapidly-cooling gasses. In other words, take the hot gasses, "print" them out, and as they cool, they take the shape determined by the printer.
Do you see what we've done? We tore apart an automobile, and we ended up printing out sheets and rods of pure iron. We gasified the plastic seats and dashboard, and printed out atomically-pure carbon. We collected the elements that remain gaseous when cool, and we now have pure hydrogen, pure oxygen, and pure nitrogen. We vaporized the windshield, and we printed out pure silicon from it. We took a whole car, shredded it, fed it into the furnace, and we printed-out atomically-pure raw materials, to be used again for another purpose.
I find this concept remarkable, and revolutionary. The idea of taking any and all things we call trash, putting that trash into a magical furnace/printer assembly, and receiving on the other end pure, raw materials, of better quality than can be made today.
Problems solved! From this point on, there is no such thing as trash or garbage as we have traditionally known it. ALL THINGS can be recycled this way, completely. There is no waste anymore. You don't throw out your trash as you've always done, to be forgotten in a landfill until it poisons the water supply. Instead, you decide what you want, and what you don't want, and send the unwanted things to The Furnace to be recycled. If you plan ahead a little bit, you can have a network in place to print-out materials in shapes that are known to be needed. So, you put trash into the furnace, and what comes out the other end are new items, ready-made to be put to work. Complete, total recycling. An end to waste. No more trash. The word "recycle" now comes to mean trash removal AND manufacturing, in one step.
Only one more thing remains to be done. As I said earlier, solar power operates only when the sun shines (duh!). If a Furnace in Arizona suddenly gets cloud cover, the Furnace shuts down momentarily. This is more than inconvenient, it's impractical. You can't operate a 10,000 degree furnace on-and-off that way. It wouldn't work efficiently. The only thing to be done is to secure a source of solar power that's available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That only happens in one place- space. To complete the picture, we need a space-transport system to get the raw material (trash) into Earth orbit, where the furnace would be located, and to get the finished products (or recycled stock materials) back to Earth for use and consumption. This would seem to be insurmountable, but of course, I have an answer for that, too.
Much has been said about hydrogen power. Typically, the argument is made to use water as the source of hydrogen. Often it's said that hydrogen-from-water is not efficient. What's not often said, is that the reason for this is that the oxygen from splitting the water is thrown away (that is, vented to the atmosphere). This represents a tremendous waste of the electricity that's used to split the water into hydrogen and oxygen.
The solution is, use the oxygen, too. Start with an array of solar- and wind-power, essentially making free electricity, and use that electricity to split water. Save the hydrogen AND the oxygen, and later, re-combine them. Many people know that hydrogen and oxygen together are called ROCKET FUEL. Here's your answer. Use sun and wind, to split water, and use the H2 and O2 together, as rocket fuel, to send rockets loaded with trash into orbit, where the trash is reconverted into usable materials. The rocket exhaust is, of course, water, which disperses into the air, to fall as rain and be used again in another rocket launch.
Some day we will have a new job title. I don't know exactly what it will be. Trash man, garbage man, recycler, manufacturer, printer, rocket scientist. Combine them all into one, and I don't know what you'd call it. Maybe World Savior would be the appropriate title. As far-out as these ideas seem, they are do-able nonetheless. I don't think I've talked about any technologies that are impossible, or even really that challenging, except for bringing it all together as one. Material things still would not be free, for there is always costs involved in any business endeavor. But I would be willing to pay for a clean planet, with no trash (because it's all in orbit!), and real, true recycling of all the things we use every day. Ready-made products would glide to Earth from the Orbiting Furnace, to the department store of the future, for us to buy and use and recycle again and again.
What are we waiting for?