September 8, 2010
Lawyer wants to turn landfill trash to gas
County to explore idea of $1.5 million ‘thermal gasifier’ that would produce electricity
Local attorney Lee Miller presented to the Highway Committee Tuesday an idea for converting trash at the county landfill into gas in a way she says would preserve the environment and power schools and municipal buildings.
Miller told the committee that for approximately $1.5 million, the county could build a “thermal gasifier” to heat the trash to a point it converts the solid waste into a gas, without actually burning the material and releasing toxins into the air.
The gasifier is a multi-chambered device that extracts the volatile elements from the trash by putting it under high heat. The chambers then burn the gases to break them down into carbon dioxide and water, which is then released into the air. The metallic components left over from the first chamber can be sorted and sold.
The technology also has the potential to be connected to a generator, using the harnessed energy to power schools and municipal buildings, said Miller.
Legislators want to explore the idea along with others, such as selling or leasing the site, to solve the county’s debt at the landfill.
Miller said she and her father found out about the technology when they were researching ways to heat greenhouses.
Miller presented the idea to the committee as an alternative to selling or leasing the landfill. In July, the county hired the Niagara Falls-based consultant EnSol Inc. to study the landfill for cost-saving measures, since the county has approximately $14 million in landfill debt.
The firm performed a preliminary analysis of the county landfill’s operations in early June, determining that the landfill’s yearly operational costs are approximately $773,797, with debt on top of that.
Miller said she has been in touch with Waste2Energy, a New York City-based provider of the technology.
Waste2Energy did not return a phone call for comment by press time.
Miller distinguished between a thermal gasifier and an incinerator.
She said the gasifier turns the waste into a harmless gas and separates heavy metals from the ash, whereas an incinerator releases the gas into the air and the ash is not separated out but must be deposited at a hazardous waste landfill.
“By the time the process is finished, all that is left is water and carbon dioxide ... nothing polluting,” Miller said.
Miller said these heavy metals can be resold to companies, for example mixed with asphalt.
But some people, like Legislator Tony Pace (D-7th Ward), who does not sit on the committee but attended the meeting, are skeptical.
“Carbon dioxide levels are a big issue worldwide when it comes to global warming and the federal government is doing things to reduce that. How much carbon dioxide is going to be released?,” Pace asked.
Pace also wonders who would buy the heavy metals that are found in the ash and questioned the economic feasibility of the project. Pace foresees additional costs beyond building the gasifier, such as constructing a steam plant to generate energy.
“Would it be economical for a smaller location like Cortland, compared to a big city which generates a lot more volume,” Pace questioned, referencing Miller’s presentation in which she stated large cities such as Minneapolis and Los Angeles are using the technology.
But Highway Chair Dave Fuller (R-Cincinnatus, Taylor, Freetown and Willet) thinks the idea is worth exploring. Fuller said EnSol will include an analysis of this type of technology in its report that is due back within the next week.
“I am amazed this technology is there. That you can take an existing landfill and theoretically do away with it, that is an extreme plus,” Fuller said.
Fuller said, however, he is “not 100 percent sold” that only steam and carbon dioxide are released during the process. It will have to be looked at in depth, he said.
Regional Air Pollution Control Engineer at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Reggie Parker, said he could not assess the technology since he had not reviewed a specific proposal. A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency did not return a phone call for comment by press time.
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