Thursday, April 17, 2014
Hatch Hill Landfill
AUGUSTA — The city's Hatch Hill landfill could be home to a first-in-the-country operation that converts trash into liquid fuel.
City and state officials are in early discussions with a company that wants to build what it says would be the first plant in the United States to use a gasification process to turn municipal solid waste into liquid fuel, most likely bio-diesel. Eastern Green Energy LLC proposes to build a $20 million trash-to-liquid fuel plant.
Company officials said the Augusta plant would be their first and could be a showcase for the emerging technology.
"They appear to have the wherewithal to do what we're talking about; it's an interesting prospect for us," City Manager William Bridgeo said.
The system has already been in use for many years in other countries, but so far no such plants have been built in the U.S., city and company officials said. Until recently, the economics of turning trash into gas haven't worked in this country, as it has been cheaper to simply place trash in a landfill than to convert it into fuel.
But with high conventional fuel prices, growing interest in "green" fuels, and shrinking landfill space, company officials believe the time may be right and Augusta may be the right place to make the numbers work.
"The economics of fuels from solid waste are just now making this practical," said Edward Crofton, vice president of Eastern Green Energy LLC, the firm developing the plan. Partners in the proposal include Pennsylvania-based Synergy Electric Power Corp. and Texas-based GGI, which has developed waste-to-energy technology. Crofton said it could be the first such plant in the U.S., although he is aware of other, similar initiatives also in development which could end up being the first.
Company officials recently met with city and state Department of Environmental Protection officials to discuss the plan.
Bridgeo said city staff have had several conversations with the company.
"We've being careful about not making any commitments that'd get us into potential trouble," Bridgeo said.
"The city would not really have much of anything at risk here. We'd agree to lease them land inside the gate at Hatch Hill and divert a percentage of the solid waste to them, as feedstock for their conversion process," he said.
Bridgeo said before the city makes that level of commitment, it would do further research into the company, its financial backers, and the technology involved.
Earlier this year, Crofton told city councilors the firm would share information on its financials. In an email Tuesday, he said the fledging firm would be established in Maine, likely in Augusta, and has substantial financial backing.
"Eastern Green Energy will be a Maine-based company, employing Maine people who have an interest in the green future of the state," Crofton said. "The investors backing the company are major financial firms with long track records of successful ventures."
Crofton said the company is in early discussions with the DEP and will be supplying the agency with data so the proposed technology and process can be evaluated.
Paula Clark, director of the DEP's Solid Waste Management Division, said she and DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho recently met with city officials and representatives of the company.
She said without knowing more about the technology the firm plans to use, she could not comment on what regulations would likely apply.
"I think our next step is to set up a meeting and talk more about the technology itself, the technical issues," Clark said.
"We're certainly looking forward to continuing discussion about it. We'll be in a better position to talk about the regulatory aspect once we understand the technology a little better."
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