This week, New Jersey moved toward joining the ranks of states that require food waste to be utilized as an energy source. The rationale for the requirement is two-fold: Rotting food releases methane, which is a harmful greenhouse gas. Transitioning the material to energy would help alleviate that problem. And in addition to addressing the methane issue, the energy that is produced reduces reliance on fossil fuels.
The most important element of S771 is a requirement, starting on Jan. 1, 2019, facilities producing an average volume of 104 tons or more of food waste annually deliver it to a facility if it is within 25 miles, according to Biomass Magazine. There are provisions for situations in which the waste facility is more than 25 miles away or refuses to accept the waste. Other provisions will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022, according to the story.
It’s difficult to say definitively, but activity seems to be picking up in the broader world of WTE, which goes way beyond food. In a Q&A at WasteDIVE, Stephen Jones, the President and CEO of waste-to-energy (or energy-from-waste) firm Covanta suggested that the business is being driven by the increasing reluctance of companies to use landfills. At this point, however, the focus is on existing plants:
In the U.S. you’re probably going to see expansions more than new greenfields. That’s easier to do than to do a new development on a greenfield site. It seems to me like municipalities are looking at their solid waste plans and it just seems to be a little bit more interest now than previously on what communities are going to do. These are some of our existing communities that we work with. And it feels like they’re looking at their solid waste plans and thinking about whether they need to expand their EFW facilities.
In Maine, The Portland Press Herald said that a WTE plant is under construction in Hampden. The story says that the Municipal Review Committee (MPC), a non-profit organization of more than 100 Maine municipalities that deals with solid waste issues, voted earlier this month to release $1.62 million to enable construction to begin this fall. The idea, according to the story, is for MPC members to transition from the current facility, the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, to the Fiberight WTE plant when it is completed.
WTE plants are not new, though they only are a minor player in the overall energy landscape. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said that at the end of 2015 there were 71 WTE plants in 20 states capable of generating 2.3 GW of power. One-fifth of the plants are located in Florida. Last year, Florida’s Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility 2 became both the largest and the first new waste to energy plant to come online since 1995. In all, however, waste to energy is not a huge deal: It accounted, according to EIA, for only 0.4 percent of energy generated in the country last year.
Waste Management World offers a lot of good information on Palm Beach Renewable Facility 2. The bottom line is that one WTE plant was in operation, but population growth in Palm Beach County was outstripping its capabilities. The options were either extending landfills or building a new WTE facility. The latter option was chosen. The facility was built by Babcock & Wilcox, which operates the initial plant through a subsidiary.
Last week, the Tennessee Advanced Business Council blogged on the commissioning of a WTE gasification plant in Lebanon. The plant uses downdraft gasification. The plant will transform the waste through a series of chemical processes into hot water. That hot water – which represents 95 percent of the waste – is used to fuel a nearby water treatment plant, the post says. The energy used by that plant is reduced by two-thirds. The remaining 5 percent of the waste is reduced to biochar, which the post says is rich in carbon. It will be sold to local farmers.
Clearly, the expansion of WTE would change the way in which energy and facility managers go about their daily work, since the waste would be handled differently and the sources of energy may change.