Augusta, Maine may soon be the first city in the U.S. to build a trash-to-liquid plant for turning garbage into liquid fuel, primarily biodiesel. The ground-breaking facility would be situated near the Hatch Hill landfill. Is this the future of municipal waste handling in the U.S.?
City official are still in the preliminary stages of approving the project, but high gas prices and shrinking landfill space is helping to move plans forward. Eastern Green Energy LLC would build the estimated $20 million trash-to-liquid facility.
Several of these waste-to-energy plants exist around the world, but this would be the first in the United States. There are about 86 other waste-to-energy facilities across the U.S., but these plants utilize incineration or methane extraction methods to derive energy from municipal waste.
The new trash-to-liquid fuel-making process involves gasification of the waste. This complicated process basically consists of converting gases released by waste into fuels, such as biodiesel, heating oil and synthetic fuels.
Not all waste would be accepted at the new facility. Glass, metal and ceramic items would have to be sorted out, but most other trash would be ok.
Edward Crofton, VP of Eastern Green Energy LLC, estimates the trash-to-liquid facility could extend the lifespan of the Hatch Hill landfill by 30 years by diverting municipal waste from the landfill to the trash-to-liquid plant. City officials see this as one of the project’s greatest benefits.
Crofton told city officials the facility could handle 40 tons of municipal waste per day initially. The plant would have a maximum capacity of 100 tons per day. It would employ 16 full-time employees when operating at full capacity.
Is Nationwide Trash-to-Liquid a Viable Option?
A 2008 report prepared by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) investigated this very question. The report concluded that wide-spread trash-to-liquid facilities could be beneficial, but more research needs to be done regarding economical factors, such as load tipping fees and overall scale of individual projects.
It’s definitely a viable way to migrate away from fossil fuels and move toward sustainable fuel options. According to the DOE report, approximately 45-percent of total municipal waste generated in the U.S. is recycled. This leaves about 138 million tons of unutilized waste that could be utilized at trash-to-liquid facilities. This amount of waste holds a potential 1.4 quadrillion Btu fuel value.
The DOE study went a step further and examined 47 landfills across the U.S. that processed a minimum of 3,300 tons of municipal solid waste per day. It found these sites would be capable of generating 310,000 barrels of liquid fuel per day, which equates to about 1.4-percent of the U.S. demand for fuel in the transportation sector.
While 1.4-percent may not sound like more than a drop in the bucket, remember that these figures are conservative. Imagine if every landfill in the U.S. implemented trash-to-liquid operations; the amount of fuel generated from plain old trash would skyrocket!