Below is the text version of the webinar “Community Waste Management Technical Assistance Forum: Exploring Solutions to Convert Waste to Energy and Products,” presented in November 2021 by the Bioenergy Technologies Office of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Erik Ringle, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Well, good morning and good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today's webinar, “Community Waste Management Technical Assistance Forum: Exploring Solutions to Convert Waste to Energy and Products.” I'm Erik Ringle from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Before I get started I’d like to cover some housekeeping items so you know how you can participate in the webinar.
You will be in listen-only mode during the webinar today. You can select audio connection options to listen through your computer audio or dial into your phone. For the best connection, we recommend calling in through a phone line. You may submit questions for our panelists today using the Q and A panel. If you are in full-screen view, click the question mark icon located on the floating tool bar at the lower right side of your screen. That will open the Q and A panel. If you are in split-screen mode, that Q and A panel is already open and is also located at the lower right side of your screen. To submit your questions simply select “all panelists” in the Q and A drop-down menu, type in your question or comment, and press enter on your keyboard. It's as simple as that. You may send in those questions at any time during the presentations. We will collect these and time permitting address them during the Q and A session at the end. Now if you have technical difficulties or need help during today's session, I want to direct your attention to the chat section. The chat section is different from that Q and A panel I just discussed and appears as a comment bubble in your control panel. Your questions or comments in the chat section only come to me, so please be sure to use that Q and A panel for content questions for our panelists. We are recording this webinar. It will be posted on the Bioenergy Technologies Office website at a later date along with these slides. Please see the URL provided on the screen here. If you're interested in learning about BETO news, events, and funding opportunities, we also invite you to sign up to the BETO mailing list zone here. I will post a link to both of these resources in the chat here in a moment. Now a quick disclaimer before we get going. This webinar, including all audio and images of participants and presentation materials, may be recorded, saved, edited, distributed, used internally, posted on the U.S. Department of Energy's website, or otherwise made publicly available. If you continue to access this webinar and provide such audio or image content, you consent to such use by or on behalf of DOE and the government for government purposes and technology will not expect or approve or be compensated for such use. OK, with that I’ll now turn things over to Justin Rickard to introduce our topic and panelists.
All right, thanks, Erik. I appreciate it. Can you hear me OK?
Yes, your audio sounds good.
All right, and welcome, everybody. I’m Justin Rickard with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Just a few more items before we get to the presentations. This webinar is brought to you by the bioenergy communicators working group also known as BioComms. This group is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office, also known as BETO. The BioComms working group includes bioenergy communicators, laboratory relationship managers, and education and workforce development professionals from the national labs and the BETO organization who gather once a month to strategize on how to effectively communicate and promote BETO-funded research to the public. The BioComms working group also provides the public the opportunity to learn about current and emerging bioenergy technologies, projects, and partnerships through monthly webinars, which brings me to the agenda for today's webinar.
We'll have five presenters today, each on the impact of DOE’s waste to energy technical assistance for local governments program. Beau Hoffman will present an overview of the program and will moderate the discussion after the presentations, and Thomas Swarr, Rob Davies, Lance Larsen, Shelby Best and Breanne Johnson will present on the impact of this program on each of their local communities around the United States. OK, next slide, please.
All right, before we get started, I’d like to provide the bios for all the presenters today. Beau Hoffman is a technology manager with the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office and has expertise in biochemical processes, particularly those that utilize advanced fermentation and separation strategies for the cost-competitive production of biofuels and bioproducts. Beau is also actively involved in BETO's waste to energy activities that focus on wet and gaseous waste streams and the challenges associated with those feedstocks. Prior to his current role, Beau worked as an engineer at Lucca Technologies, where he served as the project engineer for the company's eastern U.S. field projects. He served as a staff technical lead for business development, techno-economic analysis, mergers, acquisitions, and regulatory activities. His background also includes experience in the upstream oil and gas industry, performing reserves, forecasting, and resource valuations. Beau received his B.S. in chemical and biological engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder.
After Beau, Tom Swarr will present. Tom retired from United Technologies, where he was responsible for developing and implementing a policy on design for environment and safety. As a resident of Hartford, Connecticut, he previously served on its advisory commission on the environment and currently serves on the board of the Hartford Energy Improvement District and is co-chair of the Solid Waste Task Force. He also represents the city as an ad hoc member of the Board of the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority.
Next up will be Lance Larsen and Rob Davies presenting together. Lance Larsen's interest in renewable energy originated in his work with industrial hemp. He formed Odyssey Renewable Energy to establish an energy infrastructure in in public-private partnership with Savannah Industrial Park for the redevelopment of the former Savannah Army Depot. Lance is committed to this project's goals of rural economic development and sustainable management of organic waste streams, to which he dedicates the diverse industry experience as corporate attorney asset manager and entrepreneur. Rob Davies is deputy director of Savannah Industrial Park in rural northwest Illinois located at the former Savannah Army Depot. The site is the location of a proposed new public intermodal port facility on the upper Mississippi River. He views renewable energy as a sustainable multifaceted tool to promote job creation and economic development in rural communities. Rob's background is in marketing, journalism, and organizational development.
After Lance and Rob present, Shelby Best. Shelby is an environmental and sustainability specialist. Shelby has a multidisciplinary background in communications, research, planning, and environmental policy and economics. To date her research has involved conservation development, ecosystem services, and the circular economy. Her work at the Region 1 Planning Council covers a variety of importance of sustainability and resilience topics in the Rockford region. Shelby holds a B.S.C. degree in psychology from Loyola University – Chicago and an M.S.C. degree in environmental technology from imperial College London.
And finally, Breanne Johnson is an environment development planner at the North Central Texas Council of Governments. She supports programs related to waste and energy management, environmental impact mitigation, and collaborations for regional sustainability. Breanne holds a B.S. in public health and sustainability from Oregon State University and an M.A. in sustainability from Wake Forest University.
All right, before I hand it over to Beau Hoffman, I’d like to remind you that you can ask questions at any time during the presentation using the Q and A panel and selecting “all panelists.” We will collect these and try to address them during the Q and A session at the end of the presentations, time permitting. All right, next slide, and Beau, please take it away.
Beau Hoffman, Bioenergy Technologies Office
Can you hear me OK?
Yes, you sound great, Beau.
All right, great. Next slide, please.
So I’m going to kick off today's webinar and forum with a brief overview of the technical assistance program that we ran in 2021, or earlier this calendar year, and then talk about some upcoming opportunities that might be of interest to participants today. Next slide, please.
So I first want to acknowledge the diverse and interdisciplinary team at the National Renewable Energy Lab that helped with this technical assistance program. I think as everybody on this call can probably appreciate, each community and set of problems is unique, whether that's due to local legislation, regulations or unique recycling schemes, waste streams, etc. You know, it really takes a diversity of backgrounds to help solve these problems. So you know, Anelia Millbrandt is the lead at NREL on this program, but she assembled a great team that included technology experts in anaerobic digestion, pyrolysis, experts in rural and remote communities, analysts with backgrounds in economics and life cycle analysis, and a number of other disciplines. So I want to acknowledge those who have been involved in these partnerships over the last several months. Next slide, please.
So a little bit about our 2021 cohort. We selected 17 communities representing 13 different states across the country. The program was launched in March of this year. So we had a brief application phase extending into early April and then a quick review phase. We announced these selections in the late April / early May time frame. And at this point, a number of the partnerships have concluded. These were 40 hours of technical assistance from the National Renewable Energy Lab. And you know, there's a few that are still wrapping up at this point as, again, those researchers kind of spread themselves across a variety of different communities and projects. Next slide, please.
So just kind of reflecting back on the 2021 cohort, and you know, what we saw. We had a variety, we had a diverse menu of options for different communities when it comes to handling organic waste streams. And, you know, one of the things that we saw most frequently requested was support with cost-benefit analysis, you know, and that could be things like exploring, you know, the trade-offs between anaerobic digestion or what you would do with that biogas, whether that's renewable natural gas, on-site burning for heat and power, and other options. As well as, you know, different pathways such as composting, pyrolysis, gasification. And so a lot of support on kind of evaluating those various technologies from an economic, environmental, and social perspective. Related to this, assistance was requested on navigating various policies and incentive structures that are available at a local and national level. We had a number of communities particularly interested in difficult to manage streams. We're seeing a lot of interest in fluorinated compounds, as is the EPA. So we know that this is a merging area of interest and need. And then, you know, ultimately the goal of these partnerships was to make sure that the local decision-makers have tools that they need and can benefit their local community. So you know, a number of these partnerships manifested themselves in terms of helping with briefing materials or kind of third-party expert analysis to support particular initiatives or programs. But you know, again, that's a high-level snapshot. And you know, again, each individual community had certainly its own set of unique attributes and problems that they were trying to solve. A couple other things that we kind of observed – some of these were surprising. Some of them maybe less so. But across the country we're seeing and we're aware of an urgent need for new resource energy recovery strategies from these waste streams that depend, you know – local circumstances can vary, whether that's regulatorily driven or due to filling up landfills or closing of incinerators. But we're seeing this as an urgent issue. We also know a lot of communities have climate action goals with regards to particularly methane. There's a lot of opportunity for abating those emissions through improved resource energy recovery strategies. So not surprising, food waste and municipal wastewater residues seem to be a priority. But again, we had other communities interested in fats, oils, and greases; plastic waste; PFAs; and other things. And you know, we got a lot of feedback that more assistance is welcomed. And so I think we hear that loud and clear. Next slide, please.
So you know, subject to appropriations, you know, we are considering this as a follow-on program in 2022. So based on some of that feedback we've heard from partnering communities as well as others who have learned of this program since it was launched, you know, a couple things have stood out to us. And they’re things that we're seriously considering as we think about this program in the future. Those include things like a longer application window to give applicants more time to think about what would best benefit their community, opening this program up to county-level participation. In 2021, we restricted the eligibility to just municipalities, but you know, we do see value in doing this at a county level as well. And again, based on the feedback that we had from our existing partners, there's desire for follow-on support. And so what we see in the future is a need to develop new partnerships but also provide continued assistance for existing and previous partner participants.
So other things that we think are working well. We try to keep the application short because we know that it takes a lot of time to apply to funding opportunities and for grants. I have a snapshot of the program here on the right side of the screen, and it was designed to be pretty low barrier to entry, so to speak. And we heard that as a benefit. We're going to be staying focused on organic waste fractions. I’ve listed those down below in the bottom right. And then lastly, you know, we do really welcome any stage of community planning on these issues, whether a community is just starting to think about designing a program or goals around these waste streams, or communities that might be very far along and are in the state where they're possibly ready to do a request for proposals or bids on a particular technology. Next slide, please.
Before I wrap up and kick it over to our community partners themselves, I wanted to mention a few other programs that might be of interest to this particular stakeholder group. One is the Communities LEAP program, which was recently announced and launched through the Department of Energy. These are more in-depth technical assistance programs covering a variety of different areas with regards to energy efficiency and renewable energy. The application window just opened a little over a week ago, and applications are due the middle of December. So this isn't focused specifically on waste but it is targeted towards municipalities and local decision-makers. Another prize that we announced recently is an Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, which is really targeted at capacity development and replicable solutions across communities. So the idea is to fund underserved and disadvantaged communities on a variety of different clean energy and climate smart programs. The application window's a little longer on that one, but there's about a two and a half million dollar prize pool for participants in that program. Next slide, please.
And then last but not least, and this is very focused on organic waste, a program that is run through our Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs Office. And that's the Sustainable Wastewater of the Future Accelerator. So this is a program that is targeted towards wastewater treatment plants and provides a variety of services, technical assistance, you know, energy audits, things of that nature. And they're going to be having customized toolkit trainings coming up over the next year. They're going to be doing these by EPA regions. So as I understand it, the first of these will be EPA Region 4, which represents the southeast U.S. And basically the idea is to help plant operators and local decision-makers utilize some of the various spreadsheet and other tools on a variety of different things, whether that's to evaluate efficiency measures, gain project financing, develop plans, and other things. So I put the contact information for a few colleagues who helped run that program, but again that could be of interest to municipal wastewater utilities. Next slide.
I would encourage you to sign up for our Bioenergy Technologies Office newsletter. That's where you can be the first to know about future announcements, including things like technical assistance programs and application dates. We'll drop a link in the chat to that, but you can also feel free to reach out to myself or Anelia Millbrandt if you have any questions about the program or to kind of get into our virtual rolodex, so to speak. With that I’m going to kick it over to the first of our four communities and let Thomas Swarr speak about Hartford, Connecticut's experience. So take it away, Thomas.
Thomas Swarr, Hartford Solid Waste
Good afternoon. We can jump to the first slide, and if the slide changes I’ll assume my sound is fine. So and go to the next slide.
I wanted to start with providing a little bit of context for the project that we were doing, and I think it fits into that one with a looming crisis caused by a scheduled shutdown of an incinerator. Hartford currently hosts a large trash-to-energy plant that one time was doing about a third of the state's waste. It's dropping off in recent years, primarily because the plant is well beyond its design life and it's becoming increasingly expensive to operate and less reliable. There was an attempt to redevelop the plant. That project fell through, primarily because the finances just didn't work with the collapse in wholesale electric rates, turmoil and the recycling markets, and the state was not willing to kick in public subsidies to help, you know, bring the tipping fee down. So with fees in a range of 145 dollars a ton the member towns really were not ready to commit to that. Since then the board of the regional authority, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, or MIRA, has decided it's simply not financially feasible to continue operation beyond fiscal year 2022. So as of next July, we will have a significant shortfall of capacity for disposal in the state of Connecticut. Finding a solution is complicated because the city is adamantly opposed to any development of waste processing facility on that site. They would like to recover the property for economic development. It's currently owned by the state and they would like it returned to the city. So it leaves the regional authority in the position of having contractual obligations to provide waste disposal services through 2027 for member towns with no in-state place to actually provide those services. If that's not enough challenges, there's strong public opposition to any waste operations primarily due to environmental justice concerns. So siting anything in Connecticut would be particularly challenging, especially in certain urban communities. So the bottom line is the state is going to be forced to transfer waste to out-of-state landfills, at least for some period. Next slide.
So the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has pulled together a discussion amongst towns. About 80 of the 169 municipalities in Connecticut joined this effort. Working groups were put together to try to find ways to reduce the amount of waste going for disposal, working groups specifically around diversion of organics, primarily food scraps, ways to increase recycling, looking at the potential benefit of unit-based pricing or pay-as-you-throw, and finally adding extended producer responsibilities to some problematic waste streams to get them out of the way. But the one thing that's really missing from all this was there was no substantive discussion of new disposal infrastructure to address this capacity shortfall. Really the only thing that's up for consideration is anaerobic digestion or composting of source collected food scraps. And this is also basically the only waste management technology that's been considered acceptable to the local environmental advocates and environmental justice concerns as well. We can go to the next slide.
So the Hartford Solid Waste Task Force was originally put together to focus opposition to redevelopment of the trash-to-energy facility. Now with that scheduled shutdown, we actually moved to I think a more challenging role, which is trying to find a solution that is acceptable to the residents. What we've been proposing in trying to stay out of the debate, is it better to landfill or incinerate? We've argued that regardless of that ultimate disposal method, we think it's necessary that the raw MSW go through some type of processing to sort out and recover organics and potentially recyclable materials regardless of how you're going to dispose of the final residue. We've also argued for smaller facilities on the order of 100 to 200,000 tons per year. The trash incinerator that we currently have is permitted for 888,000 tons per year. We're trying to avoid those large centralized facilities to address some of the EJ considerations. We're also hoping or promoting that, you know, with these processing facilities to have co-located organics recovery and recycling that would help reduce truck transport and associated diesel emissions. We do acknowledge, however, that this will help reduce the amount going for disposal but it doesn't solve our need for some additional disposal capacity within the state. So the challenge for us is to really build public support for what we want, or perhaps more accurately what we're willing to accept. You know, that's necessary, and identifying sites that could be considered for investment are necessary, and without those supports it's very difficult to go get the political support that you need to help move things forward. Next slide, please.
So the project we did with NREL, we asked them to do a cost-benefit analysis of anaerobic digestion of waste – basically source separated food waste from commercial and institutional facilities. Connecticut does have a law that basically requires commercial facilities producing more than 52 tons per year of food waste, they're required to recycle that material. However, there is a catch. They're only required if there is a permitted facility within 20 miles. When this law was first put in, four sites were actually permitted for investment. Only one of those was actually built. And the challenge is the financials. And so since this was obviously a generic study, we were less interested in the specific, I’ll say, numbers then more in getting some appreciation of the various levers of technology or policy that could be used to make these projects more financially attractive so that they actually get built. So the focus was on trying to get people thinking about what products are coming out of the back end that you can add value that would reduce the pressure on tipping fees, what policy incentives might be necessary to actually encourage recovery of those materials. And we also asked them to look at the size of the facility so that we could understand potential cost impacts with our pushing for smaller more distributed sites. NREL actually did make a presentation to our Hartford Solid Waste Task Force just last week. We had personnel from our Department of Energy and Environmental Protection sitting in on that. And the discussion was focused on really trying to get people to reframe your view of voice as something that we need to get rid of at the lowest possible cost to a potential resource and what are the mechanisms we can use to get more value out of those materials at the end. And in Connecticut we have a strong aerospace industry, and so there's a lot of interest, for example, in recovering sustainable aviation fuels from waste organics. So really trying to reframe the whole debate in Connecticut and looking at this current crisis as a potential opportunity has been, you know, the focus of this effort so far.
We can go to the last slide, which I wanted to put this up just to show that it seems like maybe we haven't made a lot of progress and we've been struggling with this, but a lot of people have been working on this. And I don't have the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection listed here, not because they haven't been involved and engaged, but because Connecticut, we have a special problem because of we have town rule, which means we do not have any county governments. So in trying to put together a solution for something like waste, which must be done at least on a regional basis, it means you have to go in and work town by town to put together those coalitions to really get to a solution. And Connecticut, it's a small state and trying to site anything, particularly waste facilities, is particularly challenging. So I know that I went through that very quickly. Hopefully we'll have time in the, you know, final Q and A session to answer any questions. But I was told to keep this short, so I apologize to the more relaxed parts of the country for my speaking at New England pace. And so thank-you for your attention, and I will now pass it over to Lance and Rob.
Rob Davies, Jo-Carroll Depot Local Redevelopment Authority
Hi, I’m Rob Davies. I’m with the Jo-Carroll Depot Local Redevelopment Authority in Savannah, Illinois, and I represent the – we represent the public side of the partnership.
Lance Larsen, Odyssey Renewable Energy
Hi, my name is Lance Larsen. I represent Odyssey Renewable Energy, the private side of this public-private partnership project that we're going to talk to you about today. Next slide, please. … Next slide.
I’m going to start by giving you just a quick overview of what the Jo-Carroll Depot Local Redevelopment Authority is. We are a quasi-municipal organization. Our mission is to redevelop the property that used to house the former Savannah Army Depot in northwest Illinois. We're right on the Mississippi River, very close to Wisconsin and Iowa. Our reuse plan really is to develop the greenest new intermodal public port facility in the United States. And this project forms very much kind of the catalyst of that. Part of the background of the former Savannah Army Depot, now Savannah Industrial Park, is that there never was any access to natural gas. It was just too expensive to bring a pipeline in. And this has remained so for many years. The genesis of this project was actually another project that we were working on at the site to process industrial hemp fiber. And of course we needed natural gas to do so, and we thought what better way to solve the problem then to generate our own. Ultimately what we would like to see is that at this site, the former Savannah Army Depot, becomes the economic engine once again that it used to be, and particularly impact the communities next to or adjacent to the depot, most notably in the north, the village of Hanover and in the city of Savannah, Illinois, in the south.
We think this project is – it is one of two large-scale sustainable and transit-oriented developments that we think are going to have a substantial positive contribution to the local communities here. We were fortunate enough to work with NREL in the technical assistance phase of this. We started working with them this past summer, and around June and July had sort of our sort of closing, you know, review of the findings from what they had done. They took it upon themselves to conduct an initial analysis of the economics of food waste utilization, and specifically in regard to anaerobic digestion, which is the pathway we chose to try and solve this issue that we're trying to solve here. NREL worked on us with identifying costs to construct, operate, and maintain an anaerobic digestion facility, specifically, again, for food waste. And they looked at two different means of doing that, one a wet process, another dry. In order to accurately assess costs and benefits, NREL used the EPA's co-digestion economic analysis tool, also known as Co-EAT. And they use that in a modified form to produce a more detailed cost estimation based on their inputs of local and regional economic parameters. And then finally, NREL conducted a high-level feasibility analysis of food waste pathways. And this was based largely on our local knowledge of feedstocks that are available in this area, as well as being supplemented by EPA data. And we also looked at it with NREL, you know, across different radius from the site itself. So 25, 50, to 75 miles to understand what was feasible within this area. Next slide, please.
So what exactly is anaerobic digestion? There's a lot of talk of it. I just wanted to very briefly go over that for those of you who weren't terribly familiar with it. It's essentially – it is – anaerobic digestion occurs when bacteria break down organic matter in the absence of oxygen. The byproduct of that process is a raw biogas that is composed approximately of about two-thirds of methane content. When that raw biogas is treated, it yields a refined gas with a methane content or greater than 90 percent. And that refined product is what we know as renewable natural gas, or you know, abbreviated as RNG. And it can be used in many ways in place of fossil gas. So that would include use as a vehicle fuel, which a lot of the federal and state incentives really push the market toward, but it can also be used as electricity generation. It can be used in thermal applications and as a bioproduct feedstock. RNG can be used locally, where it's created, or it can be injected into natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines. And in addition to biogas, this process creates another byproduct called digestate, which is in a solid and liquid form and can be used as a compost and fertilizer for farming operations, and can also be used for animal bedding for livestock. Traditionally anaerobic digestion systems have been used in wastewater treatment plants, to treat sewage sludge. They've also been used in, you know, on farm, in dairy operations to limit manure orders, reduce waste volumes, and to produce energy for on-site use or, again, export to the grid. I think increasingly there is a focus, and Tom had mentioned this as well, a focus on food and agricultural waste as a source for organic waste, chronic anaerobic digestion, which itself has been proven as we've discussed as a safe and effective technology for producing this clean energy. Next slide, please.
So you know, if you look at this slide and you see the graph there in the chart, what becomes clear is food waste is the largest category of wastes that are sent to our landfills. And it's really one of the most under-recycled components of the municipal waste stream. Some examples of these waste types that we will be looking to include as a feedstock in our anaerobic digester will be manufacturing food waste from commercial processors. That would include packaged goods and whey, for example, from dairy processing. Industrial food wastes such as spent grains and stillage from distillery and brewery operations. But also include fats, oils, and greases that cannot be released into our sewer system. And then it will include, you know, the larger organic portion of the municipal solid waste stream. You know, as a beyond food waste is a secondary feedstock that we're planning to include in our process. We will be looking at agricultural and animal wastes. So examples that I can give you of agricultural waste would be something like, you know, a product that has a little to no product use, such as corn stover. It could be green waste in the form of industrial hemp, something that might be grown in part for use as a feedstock for the digester. And it would include things like spoiled foods like grains. Some of the examples of the animal wastes would include manure from dairy operations. Slaughterhouses, you know, have probably half of their product is a waste product, and we would use that, as well. And then animals that die on the farm, for example, can also have no other, you know, processing use, can be added to the digester as well. Really, these digesters are fit for almost any form of organic waste that you can dream up. One of the important lessons that we've learned in looking at other digestive operations and we want to emphasize is that the diversification of feedstock sources is very important. That is important both to mitigate concentration risk on just a few providers as well as to optimize the methane potential of the energy you're producing from the digester. Next slide, please.
I think in recognition of our growing waste problems, we are seeing increasing attention paid to regulatory policies that prevent organic waste from reaching landfills. The data we have on this slide here may not be entirely current to date, but it reflects, you know, our own survey of jurisdictions that have acted to curtail landfilling of organics. With certain exceptions we have 24 states that have implemented laws that limit or prohibit yard wastes and eight states that have done the same for food waste specifically. It's our view that there's going to be increasing pressure on food waste generators to divert these streams to alternative destinations. So the question then is where will it go? Again, as Tom had mentioned, composting operations are increasing in popularity. We have seen examples of municipalities choosing to compost the organic portion of their waste streams. One of the disadvantages of that is managing those types of operations’ footprints so the odors and attractive nuisances that it may create for the public are one of the problems that need to be addressed. Gasification is another alternative that we will not explore here, but you know, NREL pointed to as one of the options. And I think they're exploring that option in further detail. I don't think been as widely used, but it has exhibited some promise. Our choice of anaerobic digestion for our project was based on a number of different variables, most of which are simply site-specific. So it's important to remember that each community's needs are going to inform the best choice of approach here. But regardless of approach I think we can agree there's an increasing need for if not more types of solutions at least a lot more of the known solutions that have proven – you know, have a proven efficacy in diverting these waste streams from landfills. Next slide.
As I said earlier, most of the communities around our site have been negatively economically impacted by the closure of the Savannah Army Depot. So really our goal here is to do some proper rural economic development around this, around this project. We see multiple community benefits as a result of using this closed-loop system. In addition to solutions for organic waste disposal we're hoping to see an expansion of local food system and rural economic development. What we see a definite trend for or you know, something that we're pretty sure is going to happen out of this is add-on projects with their own economic utility that can connect to and leverage the opportunities that are created by the digester. We're thinking of potentially meat slaughter and processing for the high fat and oil content, as I said earlier, industrial hemp processing into various products, and then recycling. So keeping the organic portion of the mixable solid waste out for the digester. We have ample opportunity for local partnerships here with conservation organizations as well as educational organizations like the Future Farmers of America. We're in a very deep rural area, the very top northwest corner of Illinois. We have a lot of farms, a lot of farming activity, a lot of meat and dairy farming up here. So our FFA chapters are quite strong. We can also work with food production and distribution groups. And you can enhance those efforts by giving them access to the compost and fertilizers created by the facility. There's also an opportunity for us to create urban partnerships for access to rural products. Urban growers can be provided the meat that they cannot raise and process in more populated environments. Our communities here require job training and education with a focus on outcomes-based skill development and also the teaching and learning of marketable trades. We'd like to see community development through education, human resource development, and the building of entrepreneurial skills within these smaller communities. We have a plan for community engagement and outreach ultimately concluding in social upliftment of the communities that will be impacted by the economic development that will stem from this project. Particularly exciting to us is the ability to start youth programs, looking at that rural urban connection, and you know, just giving people some insight into this entire energy life cycle as it pertains to rural versus city. Environmentally there are a number of benefits extending to the reduction of chemical runoff into waterways and the associated negative environmental implications. We'd like to tangibly connect people with the principles of reuse and generation of energy from organic waste and obviously create some personal connections to the circular economy. Next up we're going to transition to Shelby Best with Region 1 Planning Council. Thank-you.
Shelby Best, Region 1 Planning Council
All right, good afternoon, good morning. Can everyone hear me OK?
Your sound sounds great.
Wonderful. So today I’m going to talk a little bit about some of our solid waste management planning work that we're doing here in northern Illinois, just to the east of Lance, and who had just spoken about this. So we can go on to the next slide.
So to give you a little bit of background context. So I am a part of the Region 1 Planning Council. We are a special purpose regional governmental agency located in northern Illinois. We cover about four to six different counties depending on the work that we do. And what we really do is we work to collaborate and convene with our local governments, trying to address those regional issues on a long-term horizon. And most currently we are working on updating our solid waste management plan for two of those counties. Next slide.
So we do have some challenges here as well in northern Illinois, as was discussed by the previous panelists. We have a region that we do have multiple landfills, but they are also running out of space. We're currently slated for the landfill that is within Winnebago County to run out of space within the next 15 years. And as many people may know that it takes also about 15 years to get all the approvals necessary for landfills. So it is something that is very concerning to our region, as that is our primary means of disposing of waste at this moment. Additionally some other regional constraints and backgrounds to be concerned about is that the Chicago Rockford International Airport, which is hosted in Rockford, Illinois, which is within Winnebago County, is one of the fastest growing cargo airports in the world. So with the new companies arriving and growing their presence such as Amazon and UPS, we are going to need to really prepare for that increase in economic activity and as a result of that, waste. Next slide.
So what we've started doing as we have been updating our solid waste management plan, is started out with a community survey where we asked residents within the area to ask us, you know, to tell us a little bit more about some of the materials that they have been recycling and what their thoughts were in regards to that, and as well as any issues that they may have had. As you see here within the box that was identified and outlined is that as far as organic materials go, our recovery rate of that is extremely low from self-reported residents in the survey. And this really further solidified the work that we wanted to do to explore how do we make sure that we divert organics from our waste stream. Next slide.
So again, as part of some of our update for our solid waste management plan, we have performed some analysis in a coordination with the University of Illinois Chicago, which we have here. This slide has some of our unpublished data to date. So within our two counties we have identified where and what kind of wastes as far as organics go, for this particular slide within the two counties, and then we also reference that to diversion rates at the Illinois state level and at the U.S. average level. So as you can see within the lower left-hand table that Illinois as a state and also our region as well is very low in comparison even to U.S. averages. And so as you can see then on the right, lower right-hand side, that the estimated diversion potential is quite significant, which really was a good, I guess, confirmation as well to the work that we have been doing with NREL, which will be on the next slide, which you can go to.
So as others have mentioned and Beau mentioned at the very beginning of this, one of the big things that we asked to review and to have some additional assistance on with this program is really identifying that cost-benefit scenario of different food waste pathways. And so I wanted to also give a quick shout-out and thank-you to all of the NREL team for your really great work on this. And this is one of the products that they created for us, which there is a lot going on in this, and I won't be able to go over it in much detail. But however, they were able to really take an in-dive look into various pathways for food waste to energy feasibility options and provide us with different scenario modeling to see whether or not the costs outweigh the benefits or vice versa. And as you can see, it kind of ranged depending on the different models that we did with the amount of waste that was included. So obviously the more waste you include, the more economies of scale you receive and the higher the benefits or costs associated with that. And I guess the last thing to note for the two items there is that it was interesting to see that we had landfill compressed natural gas, and dry anaerobic digestion compressed natural gas were I guess two of the main options that that rose to the top. Next slide.
So moving forward in our area, in our region, we're working to complete our regional solid waste management plan and to really utilize that information to further explore additional waste-to-energy technology options, especially as it relates to organic waste, because as you've seen we note that it is a large portion of the current waste stream that is going to landfill. And we feel like there is a really great opportunity for diverting that moving forward. And lastly, just want to call out that this is something as other panelists have mentioned, that there has been community involvement and pushback in other areas and regions who have tried to implement various waste-to-energy technologies. And so wanted to reiterate the fact that it is really crucial and critical to engage the community throughout the planning process and particularly at the beginning of the planning process. So if you want to do the next slide. Now I’m going to pass it off to Breanne Johnson from the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Breanne Johnson, North Central Texas Council of Governments
Thanks, Shelby. Hello, everyone. My name is Breanne Johnson and I’m an environment and development planner here at the North Central Texas Council of Governments. And our technical assistance opportunity has focused similar to the others on regional efforts here in north Texas to convert organic waste to renewable natural gas. Next slide, please.
So first I want to give a brief overview of who we are at the council of governments and what we do to serve our region. NCTCOG is a voluntary association of local governments serving a 16-county region centering on the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. And although we have no official regulatory authority, we coordinate and collaborate with our local government members to plan for common needs, leverage regional resources and opportunities, and make joint decisions to solve regional problems. We currently serve 7.7 million people across nearly 200 cities in our region, and our region is one of the fastest growing urban population centers in the country. So the scope of our regional coordination is only going to increase over the next several years. Next slide, please.
Now in my capacity in the COG’s environment and development department, we're primarily looking at ways to increase the environmental – or sorry, to decrease the environmental impact of our region's growth and to ensure that future development is undertaken with sustainability in mind. So sort of in that vein, there are several key challenges our region is facing relating to the topics of energy and waste management. And these challenges were really the catalysts for us pursuing not only this technical assistantship but other larger initiatives to address the waste-to-energy nexus as it exists in our region. So first and foremost, north central Texas' landfills are filling up and they're filling up fast. Our region only has an estimated 36 years of landfill capacity remaining based on our projected future growth. And if you know anything about landfill planning, that is not a lot of time in the lifespan of a landfill. So to start, we really wanted to look at ways to reduce the volume of waste going to our landfills. And so we did some digging into our regional data and also found that about half of our region's overall waste stream is made up of organic materials, and a third is food waste in particular. And while we do have some composting operations in our region, most of that organic material is going to our landfills. So opportunities for diverting that waste stream would go a long way in preserving that limited landfill capacity. And also in a region of nearly 8 million people we have a lot of biosolids being generated at our wastewater treatment plants. And our treatment plant partners are very interested in having an alternative to landfilling all of that biosolid waste.
Also from an energy perspective, a lot of the communities we serve have also set renewable energy and emissions reductions targets. So they're very interested in new and innovative ways to both generate energy locally and prioritize lower carbon fuels. And so we completed a survey through our transportation department here at the COG as part of the Dallas Clean Cities Coalition. And that survey found that in 2019 a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions achieved by vehicle fleets in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex were attributed to the use of renewable natural gas. So clearly initiatives to increase the use of RNG fuel in our regions’ vehicle fleets would go a long way in helping reach those emissions reductions targets. Next slide.
So with all of those challenges and opportunities in mind, it really made sense for our communities to start exploring the potential for waste-to-energy systems in our region. And as I mentioned, this technical assistance is part of a larger effort by our council of governments to start having these conversations about waste to energy and begin planning for the use of this technology. And actually prior to receiving this particular technical assistance, the COG was awarded $300,000 through an EPA grant to conduct an organic waste-to-fuel feasibility study, which we’re still in the early stages of but that has an estimated completion date of summer of 2022. And that study really is a regionwide effort to determine what are the most feasible options and locations for waste-to-energy facilities and in particular anaerobic digestion facilities based on our available organic feedstocks and demand for that end product of renewable natural gas. And then the technical assistance that we have received from the Department of Energy and from NREL is really a subset of that larger EPA-funded study focusing in particular on our state highway corridor 121, which is just west of the city of Dallas. And so for this technical assistance project, we were able to assemble a really great group of stakeholders from our region including partners from the cities of Louisville and Plano, as well as industry partners from the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and from Toyota Motors’ North American headquarters campus, which is located here in Plano. And all of those partners were really excited about this opportunity as they each individually have their own goals around waste reduction and renewable energy. But in projects like this, I think it is also really important to have those multisector partners, because these projects really do become easier when we're working together, sharing resources and ultimately pooling more waste into a system that we can all benefit from. Next slide, please.
So with all that in mind, what we asked from NREL is that they help us complete a cost benefit analysis of a particular site that we had identified along that Highway 121 corridor. And it's actually the current site of a landfill in the city of Louisville that we think might be a good fit for putting an anaerobic digester. So the idea is that we'd be able to transport organic waste from residential, industrial, and commercial sources, as well as from nearby wastewater treatment plants, to input into this digester and then either use the RNG produced to fuel vehicles in our local fleets – particularly Dallas-Fort Worth and Toyota are very interested in that application – or inject it directly into a natural gas pipeline to sell to other markets. And NREL has run their model and given us a lot of really great data that we're still kind of combing through and need to discuss with our partners. But the initial impression is that there's a lot of potential to create a project that is economically viable, particularly if we can develop programs with our municipalities to collect residential waste in addition to the other waste streams of biosolids, corporate campus waste, that we've already secured. And so I think the next step after seeing all of this data is to really key in to how we can leverage incentives like RANs and low carbon fuel standards to increase the profitability of that RNG product, and to show this data to the cities along that corridor as evidence that residential organics collection could be a great opportunity for achieving waste-to-energy benefits at scale, because currently not a lot of our cities are doing residential organics collection. And the other question that we still need to answer is what to do with the digestate, the other byproduct of this process, and how can we turn that into an additional revenue stream for this facility. Next slide, please.
So here's a link to our overall waste-to-fuel project website, and I think yeah Erik dropped that link in the chat as well. And on that website we've also got some links to past webinars we've done on this project and on the topic more generally. And my contact information is here as well, if anyone would like to learn more about our partnership or the EPA grant that we got. And I’m happy to pass it over to Beau and take any questions during the Q and A.
Yeah, thanks, Breanne, and thank-you to the rest of our speakers today. I know we are at time, but I do want to ask a few questions, and you know, again, for folks who have to drop off, you know, feel free to do so. And this will be recorded. So first question comes in for Shelby. And the question is kind of with regards to some of the challenges associated with having such a large cargo airport and whether that results in particular waste streams that are unique, such as like single-use plastics or, you know, that could be corrugated cardboard or other packing materials, and how Region 1 Planning Council is thinking about some of those streams.
Yeah, I know that is definitely a great point in that we are thinking about it in the inclusion of the plan. But after the plan is developed, we definitely would like to take a lot more in-depth analysis, because the plan doesn't necessarily call out specific, you know, producers of waste as far as it relates to organizations and companies and things like that. But that's definitely something we're trying to figure out as we move forward with developing our feasibility analysis, to determine do we have enough feed stock to implement these various activities? That will become very crucial to understand what exactly is the breakdown of waste that is produced there.
Yes, thanks, Shelby. And I think one other question for you, since I know you have to drop off. So with regards to your resource assessment that you've conducted, how have you been engaging with some of the other communities in the north central Illinois region? So for instance, to what extent are you able to, you know, factor in waste streams from Illinois? I know that when you set up this project that, you know, Chicago sends some of their waste to some of these landfills, and, you know, I guess to what extent are they kind of involved in some of the project development or maybe even financing for a project in the future?
That is a really great question. And we've been trying to build our way up to it, and so really wanted to understand at the beginning where our waste streams lie within our two counties that we're doing the plan for. But then we have been including talks about developing the larger context and working – as you had said, we know that with the particular landfill that exists within our county that a lot of the waste really comes from the Chicago area and the surrounding suburbs. So that is part of our, you know, more or less phase two efforts, is to really expand from the bi-county solid waste management plan that we're doing into a larger regional effort, because that will really be what will be required in order to make that transition.
That makes sense, yeah, thank-you, Shelby. Looks like this next question is for Lance and Rob. And it's kind of a specific question about anaerobic digestion. So question is, you know, what are the key challenges for developing those types of anaerobic digester projects? And is it a lack of developers, local policy, financing, or other issues, in your experience?
There are a lot of challenges. I guess I would break it down into three different categories. Number one, you gotta find and make sure you have the right, you know, quantity and types of feedstock available to you. You've got to go through a product or a project feasibility and development and planning process that involves a lot of parties and a lot of complexity. When you look at, you know, what is probably most important during that phase, I would say two things. One is, you know, sort of arranging for site control over where you're going to do it, and secondarily, making sure that when you're going to that planning phase that you've talked with your local utility, your power providers, to make sure that you're understanding what their capabilities are. What matters most there is the interconnect. If you're going to be using that gas to put into the pipeline, you want to make sure you have a place to do that. And that's one of the big challenges for these projects. I think the third category that I would look at as one of the challenges or things you have to spend a lot of time on is the energy plan. What are you going to do with the energy you're creating? You know, you can use it on site. That may not be the highest and best use of it for evaluation purposes. So a lot of people do want to put it into the grid, which is where you're able to obtain some of these credits, specifically state credits, which are of high value.
Yeah, do you want to talk a little bit about feedstock and how that plays a role in just figuring out if you can actually do it in a spot?
Well, yeah, I mean, I think that was the first category. Yes, you know, it's difficult. It's really – I mean, you know, there's these – you're pushing all these three things forward at the same time. And some of them require one of the other ones to be already done before it gets done or before it starts. So it's difficult. It's herding cats. You're trying to create – you know, I think what you're trying to do is create a development that is this package of rights, and you know, things that you've created as a substantive package that sort of begins to show like for example feedstock source. Hey, you know what, we're ready to go. At the same time, if you're talking to, you know, someone you're trying to do an interconnect with, hey, we're also ready to go. And make sure that all those parties feel like the project is credible and it has like high likelihood of success.
I think kind of a related question, you mentioned that the industrial park has demand for the RNG that you would potentially be producing. What are you thinking about for the digestate and development of like marketing or end use of that stream?
I think a lot of business models would suggest that there's, you know, value from the digestate. I think it's probably a more conservative approach to take to assume that you're not going to see value from the digestate. I think it's there. I think you will find places to put it. But I think at least initially in the early stages of operation, you're still trying to convince – if you're trying to send it to local farms, for example, you're trying to convince them that it's a valuable product and they should be spreading it on their fields. If you're looking at using the liquid digestate to spray, same question; you know, you're going to have to prove to them that this is something that's worth them paying for. I think initially we would assume that we're in good shape if we can actually just get it to farms at no cost for them to use.
Yeah, thank-you, Lance; thanks, Rob. Next question is for, I think, for Breanne, and it's with regards to kind of the partnering aspect. And I think all of our speakers touched on this to some extent, but kind of in your experience and kind of leveraging a pretty diverse set of communities and other private and public like partners, what advice would you have for how to start those conversations and how to nurture those relationships to keep things moving forward, and kind of avoiding some of the bureaucratic challenges of decision making?
I think that's a great question, Beau, and I think one of the big benefits of being a council of governments leading this project is that we already have really great existing relationships with the communities in our region and also some of those larger industrial partners. But I think since we are a council of governments, our strongest relationships and connections are with our cities. And so the first step in sort of getting this off the ground was reaching out to the cities that we represent in our region, and just speaking with them in various roundtables that we held to get a sense of the challenges that they're facing around organic waste and energy usage. And also asking them who they think additional partners would be relevant to this project. And that's also really how we got keyed into the wastewater treatment aspect of this. We were initially focused more on food waste but pivoted a bit once we heard from our cities that this was an issue that they were really interested in. And then they also suggested some of those corporate partners like Toyota and of course the airport that would be interested in this project. And then as far as sort of balancing all of those partners and keeping the momentum going, I think just constant communication. I know our contact at Toyota is constantly sending me updates about Toyota's sustainability projects. And we're all kind of collaborating on a variety of sustainability initiatives. And also at the council of governments we host several committees related to aspects of solid waste, energy usage, things like that these people are members of. And we bring these topics up at those quarterly steering committee meetings to make sure that this is something that's sort of at the front of everyone's mind. And also that everyone is getting regular updates on the status of our grant-funded projects.
Yeah, thank-you, Breanne. That's – yeah, no small task to herd that many cats of different breeds.
I guess one last question that I will ask of Thomas. You know, as you think about interim solutions for Hartford, you know, looking down the June 2022 time frame, do you have a sense for what the kind of economic and environmental cost will be for sending that waste out of state? And how is that kind of factoring into what option you choose in the future? I mean, is like the – are the economics of beating that cost or are there other long-term kind of economic incentives at play in terms of what would ultimately be the solution or set of solutions?
Well, the challenge we face is the finances favor landfill disposal. We've talked about having a more sustainable, more environmentally just system to take its place. But the reality is these things do not compete with cheap landfill. So until we, I think, have some policy that makes it more difficult, more expensive, to divert away from landfill, it’s challenging to come up with these options to favor recovery of materials for processing. You know, the mechanical sorting systems that we're talking about are well-established, you know, and the technology is mature, widely used in Europe. But there's also bans on putting organics into landfills in Europe or significant landfill taxes that really help the economics. So I think that's going to be the challenge. You know, there was a lot of angst about the 145 dollar tipping fee, but you know, for the average family of four that translates to something like 20 dollars a month. So you know, part of the problem is disposal is cheap. And as a society we're just going to have to – you know, are we willing to take on, I’ll say some of the challenges, to recover and reuse more of those materials? So that's why we're really pushing, can we at least start doing the separation to see what streams we have? Because I think some of the others discussed the challenges. It's hard to show the value in the materials until you do the sorting and see what kind of quality that you can recover from that. You know, what's the actual composition of those materials? And the waste stream changes over time, so it's a challenging engineering and financial problem.
Yes, thank-you. And I think that's a good perspective on the relative costs of landfills versus other options. I think certainly I’ve seen that, you know, when you compare how the U.S. handles some of these versus places where landfilling is completely prohibitive, such as like Europe and such. I wanted to ask or answer two quick questions that came in the chat, and then I’ll probably wrap up for the day. There was a question about the extreme difficulty associated with handling contaminants in some of these solid waste streams. And the question was asked, has anyone identified a potential kind of solution to address some of these contaminants? And I want to make mention that, you know, our Feedstock Technologies Office within the Bioenergy Technologies Office has done a number of solicitations on sorting technologies, on using robotics and other advanced strategies. So that's a – I believe it was two years ago that we did a solicitation on that, and you know, we'll include a link to those projects. And then we've also – we ran a solicitation last year that was looking at long-term kind of compositional information of those streams and doing downstream testing to see how those impurities impact technology such as gasification or pyrolysis or anaerobic digestion. But it’s certainly a great point, and contaminants are one of the biggest risks, no doubt.
There was another question about whether there are publicly available life cycle assessments or ready-to-use tools that compare emissions of various solutions. I think this is a really great question. And I can tell you that, you know, between myself and some of the others who have kind of been working with some of these analysts, that we do envision and would like to think about what particular tools we can get out into public, so that even if you're not a participant directly with NREL or another national lab on this, there's still resources that are available and can be readily used, much in the same way that you know the Weatherization office has put together tools. So I think that's a great comment, and I think that's something that we certainly can work on the DOE side. For other questions that came in, I’ll try to respond after the webinar, but I want to kick it back to Justin for a quick wrap-up.
All right, thank you, Beau. I appreciate it. And thanks to the panelists and audience members for staying with us as we ran over time a bit. I think there's a lot of great information provided today. If you did not get your question answered about this program, you're welcome to send them to Beau Hoffman at BETO. His email is listed on this slide. For more bioenergy webinars like this and other BETO-funded research, please sign up at the BETO newsletters page at the bottom of this slide. The webinar recording and slides will be posted on the BETO webinars page in a couple of weeks. You'll see the URL down there. All right, thanks, everyone, and have a great rest of your day.
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