July 29, 2008

Bioenergy Producers comment on California's Climate Change Scoping Plan

California Senator David Roberti (ret.) is a public servant of the first magnitude for California. I have met Sen. Roberti several times and hold him in highest esteem for his intelligence, his leadership, his respect for the lawmaking process, and socially sensitive policymaking. During his 28 years of service in the California legislature and 13 years of service as President Pro Tem of the California State Senate he provided superior understanding of the nature and process of governmental actions.

Relevant to California recycling and waste management law, he is also intimately familiar with issues that permeate the waste, recycling, and hazardous waste industry. David was chief Senate negotiator of AB 939, California’s landmark waste management legislation, and the author of California’s Hazardous Waste Management Act of 1986, the Hazardous Waste Reduction Act of 1989, as well as legislation establishing the California Hazardous Waste Hotline. After retiring from the Senate he was a member of the California Integrated Waste Management Board for four years. He is an innovator and friend of recycling who seeks to expand it in a clean and sustainable way.

Besides his law practice Roberti is also President of the Bioenergy Producers Association.
The mission of the BioEnergy Producers Association (BPA) is to advance the development and commercialization of sustainable, environmentally preferable industries that produce power, fuels, and chemicals from agricultural, forestry, and urban sources of biomass and plastic wastes.

Founders of this organization include some of the top waste management experts in California as well as two of the cellulosic ethanol technology pioneers - BlueFire Ethanol and New Planet Energy.

With such an experienced brain, law, and business trust at its disposal, the California Air Resources Board should take special note of the following comments submitted by Sen. Roberti on behalf of the BPA concerning the "Recycling and Waste Management" section of their California Climate Change Draft Scoping Plan.

(June 2008 Discussion Draft)

The BioEnergy Producers Association (BPA) is a coalition of private companies and public agencies dedicated to the development and commercialization of environmentally preferable industries that produce renewable sources of power, fuels, and chemicals from agricultural, forestry and urban biomass wastes and other carbonaceous materials. Our membership includes bioenergy firms, electric utilities, and waste management companies.

The BPA has reviewed the “Recycling and Waste” section of the Climate Change Draft Scoping Plan, and requests CARB’s consideration of additional measures for Landfill Methane Control. Landfill Methane can be controlled by disposing of carbon-based materials that would otherwise be landfilled in the process of producing liquid and electric energy using clean thermochemcial conversion technologies.

Specifically, the Recycling and Waste Sector Preliminary Recommendation should mirror and complement strategies outlined for the agricultural sector by encouraging the use of urban biomass wastes for sustainable energy production. Deployment of bioenergy strategies is consistent with the Bioenergy Action Plan, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), and AB 32 GHG reduction goals for the following reasons:

Landfill Abatement Potential

The Draft Scoping Plan recognizes fugitive landfill methane gas emissions as a major GHG precursor, and calls for measures to reduce the volume of materials flowing to land disposal. Existing source reduction, recycling, and composting programs are credited with attainment of the state’s 54% diversion rate, and the Plan places principal reliance upon the expansion of these programs to reduce disposal tonnages in the future, virtually ignoring the potential to use these waste resources in the clean production of liquid and electric energy.

Despite the success of its recycling and composting efforts, California’s high disposal rate has remained virtually unchanged for the past 20 years. 40 million tons of municipal waste were landfilled in California in 1989, the year AB 939 was passed. This year, despite the progress of recycling, 42 million tons of waste will be placed in the state’s landfills. As the state’s population is expected to grow by some 10 million people over the next 25 years, this trend is expected to continue.

It is folly to adopt the position that the volume of material that is being placed in California’s landfills can be significantly reduced through source reduction, traditional means of recycling and composting alone. All methods of disposal must be incorporated in any effective plan, and this includes the complete disposal (i.e., destruction) of carbon-based wastes in the process of producing the liquid and electric energy so desperately needed by the state.

Approximately 70% of the residual materials placed in landfills consist of various types of biomass, only a portion of which may be feasibly composted or recycled. In short, new tools are needed. For example, compostable organics (i.e. food and vegetative wastes), comprise only about 25% of this stream. Similarly, there is no estimate of additional biomass materials, such as paper, which may be recovered through intensified commercial recycling efforts, although markets for the major portion of this stream may have already been optimized, with residuals having limited commodity market value.

In contrast, new biomass conversion technologies, such as in-vessel hydrolysis/fermentation and thermal/fermentation processes, have the potential to convert the full spectrum of landfill-bound carbonaceous waste materials into renewable energy products, including power, fuels, and chemicals. Because of their unprecedented potential to divert waste materials to beneficial use, the development of clean technology bioenergy facilities is an essential and necessary component of future landfill abatement strategies.

GHG Reduction Potential

The Draft Scoping Plan notes that commercial recycling and composting programs “could have substantial greenhouse gas benefits but their in-state reductions have not been quantified at this time.” Indeed, data on the effectiveness of current waste management practices as climate change strategies are both inconclusive and incomplete.

Composting operations, for example, have their own set of air quality concerns, including VOCs and GHG precursors. In fact, an independent study recently completed by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts1 concluded that placement of urban green waste in landfills as alternative daily cover was superior to composting these materials in terms of net GHG emissions.

The climate change benefits of recycling are generally assumed to derive from the avoidance of virgin material extraction and reintroduction of recovered materials with “intrinsic energy value” back into the remanufacturing process, although the Draft Scoping Plan admits that such benefits may not occur in California. Indeed, the majority of California’s recyclables leave the state for distant domestic or foreign markets, with the largest volume of these commodities, namely paper and plastics, being shipped to China.

The life cycle analyses on which recycling climate change benefits are based seldom calculate the global GHG impacts of trans-Pacific shipping, or of transferring the remanufacturing burden to developing nations where environmental controls are minimal or nonexistent. These atmospheric industrial pollutants drift eastward and find their way back to California in a matter of days, contributing further to the state’s GHG reduction challenge.

The CIWMB’s own studies point out the critical need to both reevaluate and expand the range of technologies employed to meet future landfill abatement and climate change objectives. For example, a comprehensive life cycle analysis of waste management practices completed in 2004 by the Research Triangle Institute2 concluded that new waste conversion technologies (acid hydrolysis, gasification, and catalytic cracking) were superior to recycling and composting with regard to energy balance, NOx emissions, and carbon emissions. Similarly, a 2006 study of thermal waste conversion technologies prepared for the CIWMB by UC Riverside3 stated:
“If conversion technologies were able to process a significant portion of California’s waste that is currently landfilled, benefits could be realized in a number of areas. These include reductions in overall greenhouse gas emissions, fugitive landfill gas emissions, and diesel truck emissions. On the energy production side, the avoided costs and impacts in exploration, production, and transportation of traditional fuels could be substantial.”

This same study concluded:
“Thermochemical technologies can process a wider variety of feedstocks and can have a greater effect on landfill reduction. Thermochemical technologies can also produce a larger variety of products, which can displace the need for non-renewable sources of energy and fuels. Other indirect effects include eliminating diesel truck trips and reducing landfill gas emissions.”

Thermochemical conversion technologies are clean technologies because nothing enters the atmosphere as a result of the gasification (waste disposal) step. The resulting synthesis gases and waste heat from the processes can be converted to liquid and electric energy. The opposition to conversion technologies that is influencing legislative and administrative policy in California stems from those who refuse to accept that 21st century technology can achieve environmentally superior waste-to-energy technologies; from the traditional recycling industry which wants to suppress competition for the state’s waste streams and from waste management firms that view conversion technologies as threats to landfills.

It is time for the state to look past these short-sighted positions and embrace these emerging technologies with the same commitment as the federal government, other states and nations. More than 100 of these plants are now operating or will be constructed in Europe and Asia during the next decade.

California should be a leader in encouraging such technologies.
However, private enterprise will continue to take these projects elsewhere until the state adopts a practical, efficient and supportive statutory and regulatory environment for their implementation and operation.


The BioEnergy Producers Association supports the expansion of California’s source reduction, recycling, and composting programs. At the same time, we urge that new clean-technology bioenergy strategies be applied to the state’s growing post-recycled waste stream in order to meet urgent landfill abatement and climate change goals. Timely deployment of waste-based biorefineries can provide a vehicle for integrating California’s renewable energy, AB 118, and AB32 policy objectives.

1 Evaluation of Green Waste Management Impacts on GHG Emissions, Alternative Daily Cover Compared with Composting. Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, April 2008.
2 Life Cycle and Market Impact Assessment of Noncombustion Waste Conversion Technologies. Prepared for the CIWMB by the Research Triangle Institute International, 2004.
3 Evaluation of Environmental Impacts of Thermochemical Conversion Technologies Using Municipal Solid Waste Feedstocks. Prepared for the CIWMB by the University of California , Riverside, April 2006.

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