Green trash technology: solution or smoke?

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A green solution to the town’s trash disposal problem could generate quite a lot of green for the town, according to Advisory and Finance Committee member James Sweeney

With technological advances being made every day, Plymouth could miss the boat and lose millions in revenue if it doesn’t jump on the latest solid waste technology, Sweeney added.

But Solid Waste Advisory Committee Chairman Larry Fava says the technology to which Sweeney refers is not tried and tested and would generate harmful toxins.

SEMASS, the waste-to-energy facility in Rochester where Plymouth disposes of its trash, is anxious for the town to ink a 15-year agreement by Dec. 31.

But Sweeney says this doesn’t give Plymouth enough time to investigate an alternate that could make the town hefty revenue, eliminate the need to separate recyclables from trash and convert 100 percent of all trash into moneymaking energy.

“Why are we locking ourselves into an older technology when there are newer technologies that are kinder to the environment and could be a constant revenue stream for the town?” Sweeney asked. “A system like this would allow Plymouth to reach its 2020 energy goals by 2012.”

While Fava is open to hearing about the technology, he said he’s already researched it and found some fatal flaws.

“A lot of what he’s talking about is unproven technology at this time,” Fava added. “There’re still a lot of pollutants coming out of that stack. We’re talking carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, carbon monoxide getting out of that smoke stack. I’m not going to have the kids in our community poisoned by that.”

Louisiana-based Global Fuel Technologies is on the cutting edge of this technology, Sweeney explained, building anaerobic green, solid waste facilities that, he says, are the wave of the future.

Using approximately 5 acres of land, a facility could be online within 12 to 18 months, Global Fuel Technologies Vice President Jody Thomas said.

“We like to build next to a transfer station,” Thomas said. “Our plants are usually set up for a return within three-and-a-half years – the municipality gets its money back.”

The town’s recycling committee supports this plan, which has yet to solidify into proposal form. Plymouth has to show a genuine interest in the alternative before Global Fuel will make a presentation to town officials, Sweeney added.

Sweeney is scheduled to appear before the Solid Waste Advisory Committee Oct. 19 with information regarding this new solid waste technology already in use in Hawaii. This anaerobic program allows residents to dump all their trash and recyclables in one bin that is attached to a state-of-the-art system that converts the trash to energy. Such a system could be up and running in Plymouth by 2012, Sweeney said.

“It’s a closed system that heats the waste in a vacuum, if you will, and then it’s like a pressure cooker,” Sweeney said. “Waste is broken down into liquid and gasses. Methane gas produced goes into a generator to produce electricity; it also makes bio and diesel fuels.”

Under Plymouth’s current agreement with SEMASS, the town pays $22.53 per ton of solid waste it deposits. SEMASS burns the trash and generates energy.

But an anaerobic waste facility could be built for about $5 million, Sweeney said, and the facility would pay for the trash needed to produce energy.

“Instead of paying millions of dollars to get rid of our trash, we’d get millions of dollars back,” Sweeney told the committee last week.

But Fava says he’s skeptical of this number and the feasibility of the plan.

“Where is Jim going to put this plant?” Fava asked. “How are they going to cool it? Where is the water going to go?”

Global Fuel Technologies has been in business for two years, Thomas said. Of the many options on the table, he said having Global build the plant and man it initially would likely be the best, since the town would receive any plant upgrades for free because the technology is so new it’s still being tweaked. This way, Global workers could train a Plymouth staff to take over the operation after five years, when the town would reserve the option to buy the plant outright.

But for how much? That would need to be negotiated, Thomas said, and many factors would be included in that discussion.

Sweeney presented information on a larger system of this type to the SWAC months ago, but said at that time Global and other companies like it weren’t considering building smaller facilities for use by just one town. Demand has changed all that, he added.

“I’m promoting this as part of Sustainable Plymouth – a nonprofit organization looking to provide ways to reduce energy costs and clean up the environment,” Sweeney added. “It’s brand new technology. They make energy and byproducts. Trash is the fuel needed to make this and other byproducts. They pay for the trash.”

The state is offering energy credits in the form of cash for electricity produced through renewable energy like this anaerobic system, Sweeney added.

“I’ve worked in oil, coal and nuclear plants and I have an idea, I know what goes into a process,” Fava said. “I think Jim’s blowin’ smoke, but I’ll listen to him.”

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