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Can Maine Meet its Energy Needs with Garbage?

Craig Stuart-Paul, chief executive of Maryland-based Fiberight, described how the company’s demonstration plant, that turns municipal solid waste into ethanol, biogas or compressed natural gas through a distillation process, could be copied in Maine.

By Nok-Noi Ricker

 

While the Department of Environmental Protection considers an application from the Municipal Review Committee to open an integrated solid waste and recycling facility with a landfill in Penobscot County, the MRC board heard a presentation Wednesday from technology vendor Fiberight.

Craig Stuart-Paul, chief executive of Maryland-based Fiberight, described how the company’s demonstration plant in Lawrenceville, Virginia, that turns municipal solid waste into ethanol, biogas or compressed natural gas through a distillation process, could be copied in Maine.

 
“We have an organic solution,” Stuart-Paul told the board, which gathered at the Orono council chambers. “Rather than burning that … let’s come up with a solution that deals with the organics first and then another way to deal with the recyclables.”

 

Most organics in trash are burned or placed into landfills, but with recent advances in enzyme technology, Fiberight can take those materials and turn them into engineered fuels, he said.

“There are better ways to deal with organic waste,” Stuart-Paul said.

He said the technology already exists and is being used at Old Town Fuel and Fiber, the first company in the world turning wood into cellulosic sugars.

“We use enzymes to make fuels, and that is precisely what they do at Old Town Pulp and Paper. They’re taking pulp and converting that to sugars,” Stuart-Paul said.

Those cellulosic sugars can be used for lots of chemical-based products, including plastics, but Fiberight is turning them into fuel that Stuart-Paul calls “Trashanol,” a name he’s trademarked.

Before the garbage is made into fuel, the plan being considered by the board is to remove as many recyclables — plastics, clean paper, glass and metal — as possible and sell them as commodities.

“Milk jugs are selling at $1,000 a ton. Plastic bags, virgin polyethylenes, is selling for $660 a ton,” Stuart-Paul said. “Why would I burn that?”

The Municipal Review Committee Inc., is a nonprofit organization formed in 1991 to address the trash disposal interests of a group of what is now 187 communities. The group’s trash currently goes to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., a waste-to-energy plant in Orrington.

The MRC is part owner of PERC and started looking for alternatives five years ago because a lucrative contract for electricity between PERC and Emera Maine expires in early 2018. PERC now gets 16 cents per kilowatt hour produced, plant manager Peter Prata said Wednesday.

When the contract ends in 2018, “That 16 cents will go to 4 to 6 cents a kilowatt hour — that is a significant reduction in revenues,” Prata said. The MRC is concerned PERC will significantly increase the cost of processing trash to make up for the lost electricity revenues.

“The likelihood of PERC continuing to operate after 2018 is extremely low,” Greg Lounder, executive director of the committee, said Wednesday. “Our preference past 2018 was an extension of the contract with PERC. A detailed analysis of post-2018 costs has caused the MRC to review all the alternatives because it’s not feasible [based on] costs and scale.”

The MRC’s plan is to increase recycling, reduce what goes into landfills, create a usable fuel that may run future trash trucks, and keep tipping fees at what they are currently, Lounder said.

Stuart-Paul said using the PERC location would be perfect because all the trash transportation infrastructure is already in place, which is a possibility Lounder said is still on the table. He also mentioned partnering with Old Town Fuel and Fiber for the fuel processing portion of the MRC’s plans.

Members of the board and public asked Stuart-Paul if minimal tonnage would be required to make the plant profitable. They also asked about adding chicken or cow manure, if salt removed could be used to salt winter roads, and how the process handles the cold.

The plant designs, which will take another 18 months or so to finish, would answer most of those questions, but he added that 350 tons of waste would be needed to make a profit, which is more than what is produced currently by MRC members.

The project is not without its opposition, which is loudest in the communities of Argyle and Greenbush where the MRC has identified land for the facility’s associated landfill. Almost all of the comments made at a public hearing on the project last month were in opposition to the project. The Maine DEP is expected to determine if the project has a public benefit by September.

Greenbush Town Manager Jerry Davis said residents are upset with the plans for a landfill in their backyard and have posted several letters on the DEP’s website objecting to the proposal.

“The town’s attorney feels … the MRC doesn’t have the authority to open and run a landfill,” he said. “That’s not why they were created.”

©2014 the Bangor Daily News

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