Why Waste? 10 Hot waste-to-fuels projects

August 5, 2013 |

LandfillToday, we look at the 10 Hottest Waste to fuels companies, their prospects and their projects. 

So you’ve heard the bad news: climate change is here. The economy is too weak to do anything about it, they say. Natural gas is transformationally cheap, but try filling your car with it.

Meanwhile, temperatures are rising, storms are freaky, the rain isn’t where its supposed to be, and the smog is bad. Who knows what soot your child is breathing in the back of a school bus, at what cost in health? Gasoline prices are a scandal, and just when you think that fuel economy standards will save the day, you read that they only start to bite hard in 2025.

So, maybe you thought about a Chevy Volt until you choked on the sticker price and the problems of range. But then again, what does the action of one consumer matter, you think, when there are so many people in China, and who knows what they’ll do? Probably they’ll eat a lot more meat and burn a lot more oil.

So what are you supposed to do — what technology could you support? What material could be aggregated, what molecule or energy source might be tapped to really make a difference? Not only at the pump and in the pocketbook, but in the sky and the climate around you.

Think waste

Try this: think waste. Particularly, municipal solid waste. Yep, household garbage, and yard waste too — and throw in agricultural waste, too.

It’s nasty, here, inevitable and aggregated. And, when it comes to making affordable renewable fuel, the 2010s might well be the Decade of Waste.

3 reasons why waste is king of renewable fuels

Regardless of the substantial and material promise of dedicated energy crops. waste has been hot and getting hotter as a bioenergy feedstock because it solves three of the most pressing problems blocking capacity expansion.

1. The feedstocks are available at fixed, affordable prices – sometimes free, sometimes even transitionally available with a negative-cost tipping fee. And available in fixed, long-term supply contracts.

2. The odious sources are generally already aggregated, for health or noxiousness reasons.

3. They are less subject to considerations such as indirect land-use change that have plagued energy crops, and evoke few protects, if any, from environmental extremists.

Another reason to love waste is that residues can be used over and over again – once you have the idea that waste from one process can be the feedstock for another, there’s no limit but ingenuity from the process being repeated over and over again, making many uses out of the one original aggregation of organic molecules that set the chain in motion.

Now, back to municipal solid waste.

What is it?

It’s the biologically active fraction of household, yard and construction waste – the stuff that generally goes into the landfill. Minus the refrigerators and plastics.

Examples: INEOS Bio project in Vero Beach, Florida, or the Enerkem projects in Edmonton, Alberta or Westbury, Quebec, backed by no less than Valero and Waste Management.

The Pros: Already aggregated, can be available at zero or negative costs. Feedstock owners can grant long-term (15-20 years) and are generally credit worthy entities. Feedstock developers are aggressively developing this channel.

The Cons:  Water content, and pre-sortation and impurities are a problem. Generally, fermenting technologies are out (except companies like INEOS Bio that can ferment the syngas from gasifying biomass). Gasifiers are generally expensive and low-yield. Finally, MSW does not generally count as agricultural biomass, for such projects as the DOE/USDA/US Navy collaboration to commercialize biofuels production utilizing Title III provisions in the Defense Production Act.

The 10 Hottest Waste to Fuels Projects

In today’s Digest, we preview the projects and prospects for INEOS Bio, Fulcrum BioEnergy, Enerkem, Abengoa BioEnergy, Solena Fuels, Fiberight, Earth Energy Renewables, Coskata, BioenNW, and Greenwood Fuels – by following the page links below.

(Note: A printer-friendly version of this story is here.)

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