Landfill pitched as fuel source
Battelle unit thinks trash could power jets
Monday, August 27, 2007 3:23 AM
By Barbara Carmen
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
To those who oversee the Franklin County landfill, the latest proposal sounded like a flight of fancy: Turn garbage into jet fuel.
But a Battelle engineer said the components of the technology already work. All scientists need is a big-enough test site -- say 10 acres at the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio's landfill -- and a supply of trash. They then will stitch together cutting-edge technology to make diesel and jet fuel.
If they get a $30 million federal government grant.
Two weeks ago, SWACO's board of trustees sent a letter of support to the U.S. Department of Energy. If the team wins the grant, trustees will more closely study the deal before signing on as a partner.
"It has to work for us. That will be determined downstream," said Mike Long, SWACO's executive director.
But Long sees the possibilities if the jet-fuel plant gets built and works: a reliable, environmentally friendly way of keeping the landfill from filling up fast and a supply of plentiful, less-expensive fuel to strengthen central Ohio's position as a transportation hub.
Leading the project is Velocys, a for-profit subsidiary of Battelle in Plain City. While at Battelle, Velocys CEO Wayne Simmons led the development of much of the technology that would make it efficient to turn garbage into fuel.
Also signing on is Taylor Biomass Energy, which has developed methods to better sort recyclables from raw garbage and produce the gases needed to make the fuel.
Long's board was cautious about committing SWACO to a first-of-its-kind demonstration plant.
"The landscape is littered with projects that have failed," Board Vice Chairman Bradley N. Frick said.
Velocys, however, has twice received Ohio Third Frontier awards for developing technology that shows promise.
Trustees questioned Long about his plan to lease Velocys 10 acres for 30 years for $10 per year. The land is worth $200,000, and the deal would mean a total of $300 in rent payments.
"The project, if it reduces the waste stream, would be one of the most cost-effective SWACO has done," in helping divert trash from the landfill, Long said.
The team should know by the end of the year whether it got the grant.
"I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater," Trustee Colleen H. Briscoe said before the vote. "This could be a really exciting project."
A business strategist on the team that put together the bid told trustees it's a good deal for SWACO.
"If the technology does what it's supposed to do ... we would double or triple the life of your landfill," said Steve Cohen, managing director of Centennial Associates and a retired Battelle vice president of technology commercialization.
"Could you mine the existing trash?" asked Jacqueline E. LaMuth, president of the board of trustees.
Yes, but first the demonstration plant must show that it works.
The plant would separate recyclables from trash, which then would be ground up and converted into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This already works. The chemicals would be turned into fuel using Velocys' technology.
"This whole field is like exploring the ocean floor," LaMuth said. "It's hard to get at, not much is known about it, and it's extremely important."