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The fourth annual Renewable Energy from Waste (REW) Conference was the place to be in November 2016 for people wanting the hear about the latest project developments in the waste conversion industry.

Speakers actively involved in gasification, biogas and refuse-derived fuel took the stage in Long Beach, California, Nov. 14-16, providing updates and sharing valuable insights into how they were able to accomplish their goals. Other speakers gave an overview of the economic and regulatory factors at play in the development of waste conversion.

Hearing success stories and gaining a better understanding of the environment in which these projects are advancing provided valuable insights to attendees trying to better understand how they, too, can be successful in what often can be a very challenging industry.

COLLABORATION IN CALIFORNIA

The CR&R Environmental Services anaerobic digester project team buzzed with excitement over its camaraderie, collaboration and the highly anticipated project itself during the session “California Case Study: CR&R.”

Michael Silva, organics processing project manager for CR&R Environmental Services, Perris, California; Eberhard Veit, research and development manager for Eisenmann, with U.S. headquarters in Crystal Lake, Illinois; George Lam, product manager for Greenlane Biogas, Burnaby, British Columbia; and Jim Miller, founder of J.R. Miller and Associates, Brea, California, each spoke of his role in the ongoing project.

“This project was very collaborative,” Veit said during the panel discussion. “CR&R has an excellent team of operators. There’s no bickering about ‘this is yours, and this is mine’—we ask what the best approach is to get it done and we work on it.”

CR&R has 50 municipal hauling contracts, 12 processing contracts and 900 trucks that Silva said will be 100 percent converted to renewable natural gas (RNG) by 2020. The company also owns two landfills and transfer stations. To reach its goal of converting its fleet to RNG, the company decided to build a massive anaerobic digester to create the RNG.

The project cost $50 million with the funds coming from several grants, according to Silva. The digester will have the capability to process up to 335,000 tons per year, creating 4 million tons of RNG and 250,000 tons of soil products.

Eisenmann supplied the anaerobic digestion system to CR&R, one that Veit called “the largest built so far.” The company installed four parallel digesters at the site that can take solid and liquid waste simultaneously.

The continuously run digester features a center auger that will create “as much biological action as possible,” Silva says. After that, the separated solids are sent to composting and the rest is sent to a membrane where it is upgraded to truck fuel or pipeline-quality fuel from Greenlane Biogas’ waterwash hybrid performance system.

“Selecting the appropriate application depends on biogas composition, how large the facility is and what amount of methane we need to convert,” Lam said. The waterwash hybrid performance system creates 1,200 standard cubic feet per minute of biogas.

J.R. Miller and Associates, is designing and building the structure surrounding the digesters. “It’s a balance of process integration and plant design,” Miller said. “We look at the physical side of wrapping these technologies in a construction project.”

At the time of the conference, one digester was running at the CR&R site. The second was being built and the third and fourth would be constructed soon. Each week, the project team members hold a meeting to update each other on what each company is working on.

“Support from everyone is there,” Veit said. “It’s a team, and everyone is putting in their best effort to make it a success.”

ADVANCING GASIFICATION

Some gasification projects are making gains, while others are experiencing delays. During a session titled “Advancing Gasification,” speakers from three gasification companies provided updates on projects they are working on in this sector.

Rob White, executive director of the Sierra Energy Research Park (SERP) and the chief strategist for Sierra Energy, based in Davis, California, noted that in California, gasification is wrongly looked at as an incineration type technology.

Sierra Energy built a full-scale demonstration of its technology with the Army at the Renewable Energy Testing Center in Sacramento, California, in partnership with the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), and the Department of Defense, and amassed data on the technology. The experience validated the technology and led to an opportunity with the Army.

“The reality is these technologies are not easy,” said White. “Nobody is typically handed a big check and told to go invent some new technology for waste conversion.”

He talked about some of the projects Sierra Energy has underway, including Fort Hunter Liggett, which is processing between 10-12 tons of postrecycled material at the Army base working with the Army, California Energy Commission and the Defense Logistics Agency. He called it a great state and federal public/private partnership.

Sierra also is moving forward with its Zero-Waste Innovation Park (ZWIP) at the Yolo County Central Landfill, which takes in 250 tons of waste per day. ZWIP will process 100 tons of waste per day. Meanwhile, the company also has been asked by the Army to develop a 2-3 ton per day system to process hazardous materials in the field.

Full commissioning of Fort Hunter Liggett is expected in mid-February. By March, the facility is expected to be creating diesel and electricity, said White.

Los Angeles-based Concord Blue Energy also is making progress with its gasification technology. Its CEO Mo Vargas acknowledged that advancing gasification “is taking much longer than any of us thought it was going to.”

He said his company felt it needed to take these advanced technologies and find partners who want to take a longer view. The risks, he said, are large in the short term but, there is opportunity over the long term. “Electricity is the short-term solution to getting steel in the ground and short-term return,” Vargas advised attendees. Fuel cells and transportation also are great opportunities, he added.

Vargas said it is important to understand what your partner is looking for in a project. “We tend to shy away from large cities,” he said. A better fit for the company, he said, is remote areas and tertiary cities. With 10 plants in operation, the company is still learning about CapEx (capital expenditures) and OpEx (operational expenses).

Concord Blue’s projects are using a variety of feedstocks, including biomass, plastics, municipal solid waste, medical waste and sewage sludge.

Vargas said the company didn’t try to engineer several different sizes of its system as it would cost $3 million to $5 million each time that is done. Instead, the company went with four different sizes, with smaller units capable of processing 10 tons per day.

Vargas said Concord Blue found a great partner with Lockheed Martin, which put Concord Blue through “due diligence hell,” he said. All the gasifiers built for Lockheed Martin have performance guarantees.

Concord Blue recently completed a project for Lockheed Martin in Owego, New York. It also is building a plant in Germany, which will be online in 2018, and one in Eagar, Arizona, which is expected to be online in 2017.

Alex Gorodetsky, vice president, sales engineering at Alter NRG, Calgary, Canada, discussed the Tees Valley, U.K., project. “This has really been our flagship project for the last five years,” he said.

Gorodetsky said it is the world’s largest and first energy-from-waste combined cycle facility. Alter NRG supplied two plasma gasifiers to Air Products, Allentown, Pennsylvania. The project was to process 2,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste (MSW) in twin plants to produce 100 megawatts (MW) of gross electric power.

He said Tees Valley 1 is completely built and Tees Valley 2 is 75 percent built, but Air Products has undergone a reorganization and sold off many of its noncore businesses.

Air Products has stopped work on the project “so we are in a wait-and-see mode until the next owner takes over.”

Tees Valley 1 has undergone some startup runs. Gorodetsky said some deficiencies were detected and corrective actions have been put in place. He noted that none of the deficiencies were “critical flaws” with the gasification units.

SHARING THE RISKS AND REWARDS

The public/private partnership model allows the public and private sectors to take some responsibilities for the risk and rewards of waste conversion projects. In the session “Sharing the Risks and Rewards—the Public Private/Partnership Model,” several businesses outlined how public private partnerships have benefited their operations.

“When you stand alone, you get the status quo, you may make modest improvements,” Mike Pawlowski of PHG Energy, Nashville, Tennessee, said during the panel. “But with [public/private partnerships], you make incremental improvements. When you allow each to do what their best at, you succeed.”

PHG Energy worked with the city of Lebanon, Tennessee, to develop a gasification project that processes 32 tons per day—3 tons of sludge, 3 tons of tires and 26 tons of wood waste. The facility can process up to 64 tons per day.

“We have to get into the mind of the community and really understand what they want, and they have to get into our minds and understand what we need. When that happens, now you’ve got the ultimate public/private partnership.” – Craig Stuart-Paul, Fiberight

The city of Lebanon operates the facility, Pawlowski said, is able to plan, coordinate and finance projects. PHG Energy is the technology provider and operator. The city gets its feedstock from Rockwood, a provider of wood waste and tires that collects the materials and hauls them to the plant.

The gasification plant uses three of PHG Energy’s Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) systems to create 140 kilowatts each, and the biochar can be used as a soil amendment or kiln fuel.

Montreal-based Enerkem exemplified its public private partnership model with several projects, focusing on its Edmonton, Alberta, facility. Senior Vice President of Business Development Tim Cesarek said of Edmonton, “It has been a great city to work with. The residents are engaged in learning about the technology needed to create ethanol.”

The facility is designed to turn 100,000 dry metric tons of MSW into 38 million liters of ethanol per year, but it will not start producing ethanol until 2017. At the time of the conference it was producing and shipping biomethanol.

Fiberight, Cantonsville, Maryland, built a relationship with the Maine Municipal Review Committee (MRC) after the committee ended a nine-year contract with Penobscot Energy Recovery Facility for a waste-to-energy facility.

The MRC represents 187 communities in Maine and wanted a waste-to-energy facility in Hampden, Maine, that would convert municipal waste into sugars and biofuels without using municipal funds and that would be viable for many years. In return, Fiberight called for enough tip fee revenue to cover debts, services and operating costs.

Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul advised communities, “You have to risk-and-reward share with your partner, or don’t expect many quality responses.”

Fiberight will build and operate the facility, market all the recovered materials and handle disposal, while the MRC will guarantee tonnages and tip fees, manage logistics and engage the community in outreach and education. Construction of the facility began in October 2016.

Stuart-Paul concluded by saying, “We have to get into the mind of the community and really understand what they want, and they have to get into our minds and understand what we need. When that happens, now you’ve got the ultimate public/private partnership.”

More reports and videos from the 2016 REW Conference are available at www.WasteTodayMagazine.com.

The authors are editors with Waste Today and can be reached at ksmith@gie.net and hcrisan@gie.net.