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Orlando, Florida, was more than a tourist attraction in mid-November 2015. It also was a prime destination for people involved in the waste conversion industry. Those interested in navigating the complexities of this rapidly developing field found what they were looking for during the third annual Renewable Energy from Waste (REW) Conference.

Experts from technology providers to regulators and developers shared information with attendees in a location not only known for tourism, but also for the innovation it has adopted to use food, waste generated from hotels, restaurants, theme parks and a host of other businesses, as a resource to create energy.

The REW Conference, hosted by Renewable Energy from Waste magazine and Gershman Brickner and Bratton Inc. (GBB) Nov. 16-19 in Orlando, Florida, included a preconference workshop, Public Sector Planning for Waste Conversion Projects, two days of educational sessions, and a tour of the Harvest Power Central Florida Energy Garden, an anaerobic digestion facility that has been in operation since 2013.

Florida’s progressive attitude toward waste-to-energy (WTE) projects is just one of many factors behind the success of anaerobic digestion, gasification and landfill gas projects in the state, according to speakers at the 2015 event.

“Some states have decided waste to energy is not a priority,” said Mark Hammond of the Solid Waste Authority (SWA) of Palm Beach County in Florida. “Florida is very progressive.”

The SWA of Palm Beach County’s integrated waste management system includes two WTE facilities, landfills, vegetation processing, a recovered materials processing facility, ferrous processing, household hazardous waste collection, six transfer stations, a biosolids pelletization facility and landfill gas recovery.

The county processes 2.15 million tons of solid waste annually, approximately 6,000 tons per day. It has a total WTE capacity of 5,000 tons per day and recycles 136,000 tons of material annual from its residential and commercial customers, Hammond said.

The authority recently completed construction of its second WTE facility, a 3,000-ton-per-day mass-burn plant. Hammond said it was a 10-year process from planning to completion and involved an “extensive” permitting process that included a dredge and fill permit, a storm water construction permit and air construction permit. The permitting process began in April 2009 and the final permit was obtained in April of 2015, he said. Hammond also added that the air permit was modified three times throughout the project.

“Waste to energy works in Florida because of the favorable regulatory climate,” Hammond said, adding, “I’d doubt I’d ever get one of these built in the state of California.”

He said Florida has a history of successful WTE operations and that the public perception of WTE in the state is more positive than that of landfilling.

Hammond attributed some of the SWA of Palm Beach County’s success with its recent project to the two years of public outreach, which led to “little resistance” from the community.

Thomas Yonge of Golder Associates’ Gainesville, Florida, office, in explaining why Florida represented a good place to site WTE projects, mentioned the state’s population growth and climate as two factors contributing to the 1,100 tons of solid waste and the 10 billion tons of biomass generated in Florida annually.

From a waste conversion standpoint, Yonge said, some of this abundant material is processed at the 12 operating WTE facilities in the state as well as at the one commercial biofuel facility and the two private commercial scale anaerobic digesters. Of Florida’s 22 publicly owned landfills, six have less than 10 years of capacity, Yonge said.

Jeff Koerner of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of Air Resource Management in Tallahassee, said the state’s WTE plants have a total of 632 megawatts of capacity and, its 14 permitted landfill-gas-to-energy facilities have about 100 megawatts of capacity.

Florida has a 75 percent municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling target by 2020 and achieved its interim 50 percent recycling goal by 2015. Renewable energy counts toward the recycling rate. Each ton of MSW used as a processed fuel, fuel or fuel substitute receives a 1 ton recycling credit, while each megawatt-hour generated by a WTE plant receives a 1 ton recycling credit.

Koerner recommended that attendees interested in citing WTE projects hold a preapplication meeting with the permitting authority. “Florida has a time clock on permits,” Koerner said, adding permitting a new facility takes priority over five-year reviews.

PROGRESS REPORT

From gasification to biogas to the public and private and academic sectors, many players are shaping the development of the waste conversion industry in North America. Speakers representing all aspects of this rapidly developing industry shared insights from their areas of expertise.

Many opportunities awaited attendees of the 2015 Renewable Energy from Waste Conference, including a tour of Harvest Power’s Central Florida Energy Garden.

Ted Michaels, president of the Energy Recovery Council, Arlington, Virginia, pointed to the decline in oil prices and recycling markets and its overall negative impact on the energy-from-waste and recycling industry. He also noted what he described as a major “policy failure” on the part of legislators and regulators to create an optimal environment for waste-to-energy (WTE) in the U.S.

He made reference to the circular economy as a way value can be captured from secondary materials, not just by recycling. “There is value in recovering energy from materials that would otherwise go to a landfill,” he said. The circular economy, he said, “brings together a lot of different industries with a common theme.”

The economic benefit of a circular economy also has appeal with government. “It is a good bipartisan message,” said Michaels. “This is the kind of growth that can appeal to an awful lot of policymakers.”

He also said the Clean Power Plan could have implications for the WTE industry as emission and fossil fuel reduction will mean less coal and more natural gas, and landfill diversion is one way to reduce greenhouse gases.

Alison Kerester of the Gasification Technologies Council, Arlington, Virginia, said project developers in the U.S. do not respond anymore to requests for proposals (RFPs), but that they will look at higher value products, such as biofuels, and to working with the military.

PHG Energy, Nashville, Tennessee, has seen some success building gasification facilities with municipalities in Tennessee, Kerester said. Another win for the industry was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizing biosolids gasification as being different from incineration.

STATUS CHECK

2015 was a year of progress for several waste conversion projects in North America, chief among them being the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels Facility in Edmonton, Alberta, and Vadxx’ pyrolysis facility in Akron, Ohio. Representatives from both companies shared status updates at the REW Conference .

Russell Cooper of Cleveland-based Vadxx discussed his company’s progress on a commercial-scale pyrolysis facility in Akron, Ohio. The company’s thermal depolymerization process can take waste inputs such as industrial plastic, postconsumer plastic, auto shredder residue and tires, and through a continuous process convert the materials into diesel, naphtha, carbon solids and synthetic natural gas.

The company “hot commissioned” its Akron plant in August 2015. Cooper said an oxygen leak-back was detected in the main reactor and the company is working on repairing the seals and gaskets. Despite this setback, Cooper said, the company is moving forward with Phase II of the project, which is building a distillation column.

He said in the first quarter of 2016, “We hope to start depolymerization.”

Ted Michaels, president, Energy Recovery Council.

David McConnell, vice president, business development North America, for Montreal-based waste-to-biofuels company Enerkem, discussed some of the key drivers for use of waste as an energy feedstock, including increased scarcity of urban landfill airspace and interest in low-cost, unconventional feedstocks.

Enerkem has partnered with the city of Edmonton, Alberta, which operates the Edmonton Waste Management Centre, billed as North America’s largest collection of modern, sustainable waste processing and research facilities.

McConnell discussed the “rigorous path to commercialization” that took several years from laboratory, to pilot to demonstration facilities that finally led to the completion of Enerkem Alberta Biofuels, which the company says is the world’s first commercial MSW-to-biofuels and chemicals facility. Enerkem has a 25-year agreement with the city of Edmonton for 100,000 dry metric tons of MSW per year and will produce 38 million liters per year of fuels.

Enerkem Alberta Biofuels is currently able to produce methanol. A second feed system is being installed and ethanol is expected to be produced at the facility in 2016.

MAKING BUSINESS SENSE

The circular economy makes environmental and business sense, as a number of companies illustrated during the session “Smart Business – A Look at Industrial Applications for RDF and Waste Conversion.”

One principle of the circular economy involves the use of systems that maximize the use of biobased materials, extracting biochemical feedstocks and transitioning them into different, increasingly low-grade applications, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. With the help of waste conversion, companies like MillerCoors, CEMEX and Dow are embracing this philosophy.

Audrey Templeton, corporate environmental manager for MillerCoors, headquartered in Chicago, said Miller and Coors used their merger in 2008 as an opportunity to hit the reset button, bringing their best practices together as a single corporation.

The company set environmental goals that included reducing the amount of waste it sent to landfill by 15 percent. “We did a whole lot better than that,” Templeton said, adding that seven of the company’s eight major breweries are now landfill free. In 2008, Miller-Coors sent more than 9,000 tons of waste to landfill. By 2015, that amount has been reduced to roughly 500 tons.

The company did not begin incorporating waste to energy as part of its waste management approach until 2011. Today, MillerCoors sends one shipment to the waste-to-energy facility each month, while in 2008 it had multiple truckloads of material heading to the landfill each week, Templeton said.

The company’s Golden, Colorado, brewery has been landfill free since 2013. Templeton said this was achieved in part through a solid system that incorporates balers and recycling stations that use appropriate collection containers close to the point of generation.

Aaron Garcia of cement company CEMEX, with U.S. headquarters in Houston, said cement manufacturing is an energy-intensive process using rotary kilns fired with primary and alternative fuels. However, the company shies away from the term RDF (refused-derived fuel), preferring SRF (specified recovered fuel) instead because it implies a specific heat value.

Garcia said CEMEX uses alternative fuels to save fossil fuels for future generations, to reduce its carbon footprint and to save landfill space. Additionally, the use of SRF has better prepared the company for upcoming environmental regulations, he said.

“We are a perfect solution,” Garcia said, noting that the ash from its furnaces becomes clinker that the company blends with gypsum to produce its product.

Garcia said alternative fuel accounts for 25 percent of its energy consumption, including 225,000 tons of biomass and 166,000 tons of tire-derived fuel. “The next big thing is going into plastics and paper,” he added.

“For the future of plastics, we have to make better use of capturing the value of these materials.” – Jeff Wooster, Dow

He said CEMEX does not consider its kilns incinerators, adding that the company prefers to work with suppliers that have comfort letters from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Shredding is not enough to say you have an alternative fuel,” Garcia said, adding chlorine is not welcome. CEMEX seeks low-moisture material with high British-thermal-unit value.

Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, said Dow envisions a more circular economy with the goal of improving resource efficiency. “We don’t want plastic packaging to end up in the landfill.”

He spoke about the company’s Energy Bag pilot project, which used purple bags to divert nonrecyclable plastic packaging from the landfill. The project ran from June 1 to Aug. 31, 2015, in Citrus Heights, California, and converted these difficult to recycle plastics into synthetic fuel oil. Residents were told, “If you can’t bin it, bag it.”

He said the purple bags were used so they would be easy to remove from the recycling stream. Wooster estimated that 25 pounds of flexible packaging are generated per household annually. Through the Energy Bag pilot, the company found that 13 bags of recovered packaging yielded 1 gallon of fuel.

“For the future of plastics, we have to make better use of capturing the value of these materials,” Wooster said.

Contamination in the Energy Bags averaged 14 percent, he said, adding that that was on par with the degree of contamination seen in the city’s curbside collection program. This contamination was primarily paper, though some food waste also was present, Wooster said.

Other sessions at the REW Conference addressed real-world financing; gasification and advanced biofuels; and processing waste materials for maximum recovery.

The authors are editors with the Recycling Today Media Group and can be reached at ksmith@gie.net and at dtoto@gie.net.