From Trash to “Trashanol” –
By Maine Free Press | Feb. 19, 2015
An organization that represents most of the towns in the midcoast area has voted to enter into a development agreement with a trash-to-energy company to turn local waste into biofuels. At its February 4 meeting, the board of the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) voted unanimously to pursue a partnership with Maryland-based Fiberight for the construction of a $60 million state-of-the-art solid waste processing facility in Hampden. “We’re excited that we have secured a location for a project that will both advance our mission and closely align with the state’s solid waste policy goals,” said MRC Executive Director Greg Lounder in a written statement. Currently, most local towns ship their garbage to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC) in Orrington to incinerate and convert into electricity. However, due to the expiration of a government-mandated power-purchasing agreement with utility company Emera Maine, the facility will be forced to sell electricity at a much lower market price after March 2018. Without subsidies, the MRC estimates that there will be a projected $13 million revenue gap after the contract expires, requiring disposal costs to be raised by $45 to $50 a ton over the current $77 per-ton tipping fee. The PERC facility is a private-public partnership, with Minnesota based USA Energy Group owning a 75-percent share and 187 user municipalities owning 25 percent. The MRC is the association that represents PERC municipalities and acts as a watchdog over the facility. According to the MRC, the target price for tipping fees at the Fiberight facility will be $70 per ton, but it could bring tipping fees to as low as $57 per ton depending on how strong the market is for the commodities derived from waste processing. Under the agreement, Fiberight would finance the construction of the facility while MRC member towns would own the land. “Being the landlord would give us plenty of rights to see how things are going financially,” said MRC board member Jim Guerra, who also operates MidCoast Solid Waste in Rockport. Free Press Online | Plan for New Municipal Waste Processing Plant Moves
Guerra noted that MRC member towns will all eventually vote on whether to contract with the company. Fiberight, which currently operates a demonstration facility in Virginia, claims it will be able to recover 80 percent of incoming waste stream by removing recyclables and organic material to turn it into ethanol (called “Trashanol”), methane gas and fuel pellets. According to a study by the University of Maine, almost 70 percent of solid waste is organic, which is not easily incinerated. According to the Fiberight plan, garbage shipped to the proposed facility would first be dumped onto a shredder that would open and empty the bags, screening and sorting recyclable aluminum, metals, plastic containers, film
plastic, and glass to be sold on the market. After that, the waste would go into a kind of giant washing machine that breaks down the organic material, removes contaminants and recovers plastics and metals. The remaining waste is then processed and heated up in the pulper that separates the soluble organics, like animal and food waste, and insoluble organics derived from material like agricultural and yard waste and soiled fiber. The soluble organics are then fed into an anaerobic digester to be converted into compressed natural gas (CNG), which Fiberight says would be used to power the plant. The insoluble biomass portion of the waste will be fed into a hydrolysis reactor where it will be broken down into a marketable concentrated sugar solution or fermented into ethanol. Fiberight’s technology is sound, according to an MRC-commissioned study by the University of Maine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute. The authors of the report noted that Fiberight’s demonstration plant in Virginia uses technology similar to Maine’s pulp and paper industry. They added that the facility would function like a single-stream recycling plant, so it wouldn’t need users to self-sort their recyclables as they now do in most towns. However, the authors said that they had not looked at the economic viability of the plan or how lucrative the market would be for Fiberight’s products.
The MRC’s proposal also does not currently have a plan for where it will landfill the 20 percent of leftover processing residuals and other material that can’t be processed at the Fiberight facility. In October, the Department of Environmental Protection rejected an MRC application for a landfill in Greenbush or Argyle, citing existing landfill capacity in the state. The MRC had hoped to site the waste processing facility and landfill in the same place so that member towns would not need to pay higher rates to landfills controlled by other entities. Last August, MRC attorney Dan McKay said that it is “not beyond the realm of possibility” that the MRC could work out an arrangement to secure landfill space with Casella Waste Systems, which operates the state-owned Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town. However, he noted that the state has “very little, practically zero control over the facility,” and the costs would likely be much higher than a landfill that is owned and controlled by the MRC.
In spite of the MRC’s claims, USA Energy insists that PERC’s technology is current and the plant can still be economically viable, according to an interview with the company’s vice president in the Ellsworth American. However, MRC officials point out that USA Energy has not proposed any solution other than government subsidies to keep PERC running. In 2013, USA Energy lobbied heavily for a bill that would create a subsidy for waste-to-energy facilities like PERC through a new landfill tax. The measure failed after stiff opposition from the MRC and the Maine Municipal Association. After USA Energy billed the MRC for a portion of the $750,000 the company spent on lobbying for the bill, the organization sued its partner to contest the charges. In the meantime, it will likely take at least eight to nine months before the MRC can complete the permitting process and present a plan to member towns to vote on at special town meetings. Guerra says this will give the group time to learn more about the technology by observing how Fiberight’s latest waste processing facility in Iowa performs, which it will begin constructing this spring. “What we need to do by the end of the year is to get to such a level of detail with the engineering and planning that we can describe costs and the acceptable material accurately,” said Guerra.
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