April 22, 2007

Hurdles to Waste Conversion Technologies

At the 23rd Annual BioCycle West Coast Conference in San Diego April 16th, 2007, Coby Skye of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (LA/DPW) gave a presentation about the hurdles waste conversion technologies (CTs) face in Southern California.

Coby leads a group within the Solid Waste Management Committee/Integrated Waste Management Task Force (SWMC) that has been given the responsibility of recommending a CT for construction of a demonstration facility in Los Angeles that would be co-located with a materials recovery facility (MRF). The objective is to provide a first step toward significant diversion of otherwise un-recyclable waste from landfill to conversion into biofuels, green electricity, and bioproducts. Among the five technologies under review are Arrow Ecology (anaerobic digestion), Interstate Waste Technologies (pyrolysis/gasification), Changing World Technologies (thermal depolymerization), International Environmental Solutions (pyrolysis), and Ntech Environmental (gasification).

During his presentation, Coby cited many of the hurdles that the LA/DPW expects to face aside from the substantial technological ones.
The three main that we have been facing, especially in California, are Cost, Regulatory Hurdles, and Misconceptions.

Cost is an issue because landfill disposal in California is relatively cheap. We still have landfills within Los Angeles County that charge $25 or so per ton. It is very difficult for a new technology that doesn’t have the infrastructure to compete. That’s definitely going to change as we move forward. We are disposing in farther locations. There’s going to be more regulations on landfills due to AB32 (California’s Global Warming Solutions legislation) and other laws relating to environmental controls to limit greenhouse gas emissions. So we are going to see costs, probably within a decade, going toward the $75-$100/ton range. The technologies we are looking at would fall between the $50-$75 per ton range. You can see how the changes in the economy and the markets will come very quickly.

The Regulatory Hurdles [suffer] from not having any kind of framework. We are looking at our demonstration project as we are moving forward and we are not sure which permits will be required or how they will be processed. There is no “check box” for us [indicating allowable technologies] when we are trying to permit these. As a government agency we want to make sure that we go through every requirement and meet or exceed every environmental regulation so it is especially a challenge for us when we have regulations that don’t exist for the facility that we want to develop or that are unrealistic - for example, the zero air emissions requirement that is currently a statute.

The third challenge is Misconceptions. There are environmental groups that perceive all of these technologies or some of them as the same as incineration. We want to make sure that the public that is going to be most impacted by these facilities understand what they really are and [we want to know] what their concerns might be so we can address these concerns as early on in the process as possible. That is why Los Angeles County has a public outreach component specifically for relating with the public and for accurately getting the word out about conversion technologies.

Tens of millions of dollars are being invested in an effort to face the future squarely now, to begin a process to mitigate the challenges posed by growing trash demands, shrinking landfills, greenhouse gas emissions, and the need for renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels. The efforts of the LA/DPW to surmount these hurdles are commendable.

However, it is imperative that the public outreach program succeed in painting an accurate assessment of the looming dangers of the status quo and the necessity of allowing the utilities to deploy new clean technologies in their neighborhoods. It is imperative that the CA state legislature enact regulatory reform that will enable practical, expensive developments such as this LA/DPW demonstration project to proceed.

So far these efforts have been derailed by the political power of well-meaning but mis-directed "environmental" groups who are stubbornly misinformed about the difference between incineration and gasification. The costs of delay and of doing nothing far outweigh the perceived dangers of deployment, especially given the strict oversight of the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) and the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB).

technorati , , , , , , ,

No comments: