When Maine’s Municipal Review Committee (MRC) realized it would not be able to continue sending its municipal solid waste (MSW) to an existing mass-burn waste-to-energy (WTE) facility, it began to look for alternatives. It’s contract with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Corp. (PERC) and related power-purchase agreement (PPA) expires in 2018. The MRC, which represents 187 communities in Maine, determined that the facility would not continue to be an affordable solution.

The facility’s loss of revenue, decline in waste volumes, maintenance needs and reliance on out-of-state waste would have caused tipping fees to increase to a minimum of $100 per ton, according to MRC. Because of these factors and an interest in finding a processes consistent with the state’s solid waste hierarchy, MRC set out to find an alternative that would maximize recycling and still produce energy—this time, in the form of biofuels and biogas. It also didn’t want to rely on outside waste for the facility to have a long-lasting life.

MRC is pinning its waste future on Fiberight, a Baltimore-based waste conversion technology firm who’s founder and CEO Craig Stuart-Paul has 20 years of experience in recycling systems and waste treatment processes. Fiberight was awarded the contract in February 2015 and in July 2016, the project received the green light from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as well as from the local zoning board. The DEP issued final solid waste, air emissions, stormwater management and Natural Resources Protection Act permits for the project to be built on a site in Hampden, Maine.

“We are delighted to have our state permits in hand,” said Stuart-Paul in mid-July. “This puts us one step further to realizing the type of waste diversion and recycling experienced in hundreds of advanced waste processing plants in Europe, a solution that the U.S. has been slow to adopt.”

He adds, “Maine has long held a special respect for its environment, and the state is leading the way in environmentally beneficial solid waste management with its approval of our permits.”

Fiberight anticipates that it will complete the engineering and financing for the project later this summer, with construction and commissioning running through 2017. “With this critical milestone achieved, we are confident that we will be ready to accept and recycle Maine’s waste long before our deadline of April 2018,” says Stuart-Paul.

Morristown, New Jersey-based Covanta will be an investor and operator of the facility, expected to process 500 tons of material per day. About 45 Covanta employees will operate the plant in two shifts.

FIBERIGHT ROOTS

Stuart-Paul began his career at the beginnings of the dual- and single-stream recycling movement. He founded Fairfax Recycling in Virginia in the early 1990s, which grew to several facilities around Pennsylvania and Maryland, processing a combined more than 100,000 tons per year. The operation was sold to Waste Management, Houston, in 2004.

“After having sold to Waste Management, I was always looking for ways to recycle more waste,” Stuart-Paul says.

He spent time in Europe where many countries are only landfilling 2 percent of waste using a process known as mechanical biological treatment (MBT).

While many methods to maximize recovery of waste have been tried with varying results, Stuart-Paul decided, “a dirty MRF (materials recovery facility) with anaerobic digestion (AD) and a later pulping of waste could be a sustainable, lower-capital-cost way to recover value from the waste stream.”

Fiberight was founded and a $10 million demonstration facility was built in Lawrenceville, Virginia, in the late 2000s to prove out that concept. To date, the facility has more than 6,000 hours of operational experience. Owning a demonstration facility allows Fiberight to submit proposals and gives communities an opportunity to visit a working system—something not all waste conversion technology firms can offer, according to Stuart-Paul.

ANYTHING BUT TYPICAL

From a technology perspective, the differentiator of the Fiberight process for processing mixed waste, Craig Stuart-Paul says, is hydrolysis.

“We created a pulping and washing system that very effectively separates organic waste from inorganic materials, plastics, metals and the like,” he explains. “That allows us to send those plastics and metals back through a traditional MRF and be more efficient in how we process them than if they just came straight off the waste truck.”

The use of a washing system also made low-solid AD possible. “We also developed a system to break down cellulose very quickly and introduce the resultant sugars into the same low-solid anaerobic digesters,” describes Stuart-Paul. “So we have applied biotech to the back of the dirty MRF to improve both the MRF operations along with AD capital efficiency and yield.”

The digester creates biogas, which can be used for electricity, or as is the plan for Maine, as vehicle fuel. The company is already in discussions with Clean Energy Fuels, Evanston, Wyoming, to build a fueling station. Once the AD process is complete, the remaining digestate, far less than what would be created with a high-solids digester, can be composted or pelletized for energy recovery.

Clean mixed paper and old corrugated containers (OCC) are also recovered at the facility, prior to any processing. With mixed waste, Stuart-Paul notes, paper gets contaminated easily. Any fiber that cannot be recovered up front goes through the pulper and is part of the AD feedstock.

EFFECTIVE ECONOMICS

Stuart-Paul says Fiberight is making sure its contracts are solid with smart fee structures and feedstock arrangements in its contracts. “We now have more than 100,000 tons committed in Maine,” he says.

Stuart-Paul references the now shuttered mixed waste processing facility in Montgomery, Alabama, in which low tipping fees of around $28 per ton were blamed for its failure.

“They didn’t have enough revenue on the front end,” he said. “As with all recycling operations, a reasonable processing fee is needed to keep the lights on.”

Tipping fees at the Maine facility will be around $70 per ton.

Stuart-Paul describes the Fiberight approach as a distributed solution. He says the waste industry in the U.S. has moved towards large landfills and WTE plants “which work very well as part of the waste infrastructure.”

The situation in the Northeast is a little different than the rest of the country, however. With smaller communities and higher population density, more land pressures, less landfills and stricter air emissions standards factor into the equation.

“We provide that disposal solution for the 350-400 ton a day community,” says Stuart Paul. “Fundamentally, it is a better idea to recycle and recover the lost resources that are in the waste stream rather than dispose of them.”

He also says the overall environmental benefit with regard to greenhouse gas emissions and energy to displace fossil fuels with compressed natural gas (CNG) from the digester is going to be a “pathway for future waste disposal solutions.”

Fiberight does have future expansion goals, but for now, the Maine project is the biggest priority.

“We see additional RFPs (request for proposals) hitting the streets in the near future, but we need to be really focused on the project in Maine,” says Stuart-Paul.

He continues, “It is important to us and Covanta that we deliver a project for which the industry and state of Maine can be proud.”

According to Stuart-Paul, if the Maine project is a success, others will want to adopt the same model.

“We now have a bright opportunity before us with this project,” he says. “Once we deliver and demonstrate that we have a reliable sound solution to waste disposal, then we can start running; but until then, we will keep walking.”

The author is editor of Renewable Energy from Waste and can be reached at ksmith@gie.net.