ORONO, Maine — The organization representing the trash interests of 187 Maine towns is now partnering with the University of Maine to determine if new garbage-to-energy technology from a Maryland company —- known as “Trashanol” — will work in Maine. While details are not final, the Municipal Review Committee’s board agreed Wednesday to spend $20,000 to enlist UMaine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute, under professor Hemant Pendse, to study Fiberight’s operations. Fiberight has a demonstration plant in Lawrenceville, Virginia, that distills municipal solid waste into ethanol, biogas or compressed natural gas. Craig Stuart-Paul, the company’s chief executive, made a presentation to the MRC board in July. He calls the fuel product made from garbage Trashanol, and has copyrighted the name.
The MRC board voted in January to pursue the Fiberight technology for a new integrated solid waste and recycling facility, which is being planned as a possible alternative to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., a waste-to-energy plant in Orrington. The MRC is a non-profit formed in 1991 to address the garbage disposal interests of a group of towns that now totals 187 communities. Their trash currently goes to PERC, which is part-owned by the MRC. The group’s leaders started looking for alternatives five years ago because they believe PERC will not be profitable after 2018, when lucrative agreements for the electric power it generates expire. The MRC decided earlier this year to get into the trash business and applied to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for a public benefit determination in April for a landfill to go along with their planned facility. The MRC learned last month that the DEP was likely to deny its request, so it withdrew the application. MRC executive director Greg Lounder said afterward that the denial would not stop the MRC’s plans.
The UMaine study will examine issues such as how Fiberight’s process is different than those used by the paper industry, whether it will comply with DEP regulations and whether the “Trashanol” process will work in the colder climate of Maine. Board member Sophie Wilson, who is also the town manager in Orono, said she wanted the expertise of the UMaine students included in the agreement to ensure high-quality student scientists are working on the project. She requested them, “so we didn’t end up with second-year students taking a field trip.” Lounder said, “Pendse has assembled a project team with expertise in industrial development and process, techno-economic analysis, enzymatic hydrolysis and microbial fermentation.” The study should start around Nov. 1 and the MRC would like to have a completed report before the annual meeting in January.
The MRC board went into a closed-door meeting just before noon Wednesday to discuss legal issues with a pending lawsuit against USA Energy LLC, another part-owner of PERC; a personnel issue; and to work on a possible development agreement with Fiberight.
“We feel we’re on track to be in a position to outline that at the January meeting,” Lounder said of the Fiberight development agreement.