Showing posts with label Los Angeles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Los Angeles. Show all posts

July 24, 2008

BlueFire Ethanol to build in California

BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc. received a conditional use permit from the County of Los Angeles, Department of Regional Planning, for the operation of a new biorefinery it will build on a 10 acre lot near a Lancaster, CA landfill. For anyone aware of the slow rate of permitting new facilities for waste conversion in the region, that is a major achievement.

This is NOT the commercial-scale project for which BlueFire received a U.S. Department of Energy EPAct 932 matching grant of $40 million. That plant is being for deployment in Mecca, CA and will require roughly 900 tons per day of biomass when fully operational. The DOE considers 700 tpd to be the benchmark for a commercial scale biorefinery.

For Arnold Klann, President of BlueFire, it was a long time coming but worth the wait. With key drivers being the need for alternative fuels, oil prices, landfill diversion, and global climate change things have been happening fast the last few years for this publicly traded company.

On hand to support the action were Coby Skye of the Los Angeles Department of Public Works and Mike Mohajer, a leader of Solid Waste management in Los Angeles for decades. Necy Sumait, Senior Vice President, and William Davis, VP of Project Management, who made the final presentation to the Commission were there as well.

The county Department of Public Works has launched a pilot project to build other trash-conversion facilities near other landfills in the region.

"Instead of shipping the trash long distances for disposal, we want to develop these new conversion technologies and manage the trash right there on site," said Coby J. Skye, associate civil engineer in the Environmental Programs Division for public works. "What that does is it eliminates truck trips, converts otherwise useless material into usable products and energy and offsets fossil-fuel emissions."

In the past month, two of Los Angeles County’s largest cities have passed resolutions endorsing the County’s conversion technology program. The city councils of Long Beach and Lancaster, which together account for nearly 650,000 residents, each asked the County to keep their city in mind for future conversion technology projects. These join existing resolutions adopted by the cities of Glendale and Calabasas.

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BlueFire Ethanol Awarded Final Permits to Construct the Nation's First Commercial Cellulosic Ethanol Production Plant

BlueFire Ethanol Fuels, Inc. (OTC: BFRE.OB), a leader in cellulosic ethanol production technology, was granted a conditional-use permit ("CUP") from the County of Los Angeles, Department of Regional Planning, to permit the construction of the nation's first commercial facility to convert biowaste into ethanol.

The Los Angeles County Planning Commission approved the use permit for operation of the plant on 10 undeveloped acres near Lancaster, California, in the Antelope Valley. BlueFire plans to initiate commercial operation of the plant in late 2009.
"We are thrilled to receive this permit," said Arnold Klann, president and CEO of BlueFire Ethanol, "and we see this construction of our first cellulosic ethanol the United States plant as a catalyst for the advancement of cellulosic fuel production throughout our nation."

The new facility will use BlueFire's commercially-ready, patented and proven Concentrated Acid Hydrolysis Technology Process. This will allow the profitable conversion of cellulosic waste ("Green Waste") into as much as 3.2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. Derived from non-foodstock urban, forestry and agricultural residues, this form of ethanol is a completely renewable and highly-economical alternative to gasoline and other types of ethanol.

BlueFire Ethanol selected the Lancaster location because an estimated 170 tons of biowaste material, including woodchips, grass cuttings and other organic waste, already passes by the property every day. The plant is also designed to use reclaimed water and lignin, a byproduct of the production process, in order to produce its own electricity and steam.
"By locating biorefineries directly in the markets with the highest demand for ethanol, our technology can also help surrounding cities manage landfill waste, solving two problems for the price of one," added Klann.

As part of a strategy to control costs and accelerate production at the Lancaster facility, BlueFire Ethanol has already implemented production of pre-assembled modules which will comprise the Lancaster biorefinery.
"Prefabrication and modular construction has proven itself to be the best method for maintaining quality, controlling costs and creating the fastest to-market time for the deployment of complex facilities," said Klann. "Plus, the size of our Lancaster facility is consistent with the feedstock-gathering capabilities in developing countries where aggregation of large quantities of useable feedstock is not as practical. As such, this approach also allows us to set a standard with a manufactured product and export our facilities as a turn-key product around the world."

BlueFire Ethanol is also one of six ethanol companies awarded $40 million funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for its construction a larger ethanol production facility using cellulosic wastes diverted from landfills in Southern California. The facility will produce approximately 17 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year from green waste, wood waste and other cellulosic urban wastes.

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March 18, 2007

So. California Air Quality (AQMD) looks at Cellulosic Ethanol

The Southern California Air Quality Management District (SC/AQMD) is both a hero to local health agencies and the bane of existence to emerging technology developers.

Unquestionably, the improvement in Southern California air quality is one of the great national health success stories. Since 1990, per capita smog exposure has seen marked improvement in every county of the region and that is a mostly a result of AQMD "policing" of stringent controls and testing.

However, the San Gabriel Valley, Riverside, and San Bernardino are still seemingly intractable challenges. Until there are significant improvements in vehicular, refinery, electricity generation, and cement manufacturing emissions mitigation, the region's climatological conditions will still produce oppressive smog-filled conditions. And Los Angeles is still ranked as the smoggiest city in America.

It is, perhaps, for this reason that the AQMD sponsors periodic full day forums and roundtable discussions to discuss energy, fuels, and transportation issues that bear on air quality. Since June of 2006, the AQMD has hosted forums on Ethanol, Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles, Diesel Vehicles, Ozone, BioDiesel, and Container Movement Technology.

On February 15 AQMD held a web-cast forum on Cellulosic Ethanol that featured high caliber, national experts in the field. Each presented a 20-26 minute presentation in the morning and participated in a roundtable discussion in the afternoon.

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Cellulosic Ethanol Technology Forum and Roundtable Discussion

Transportation sources in the (Southern California) South Coast Air Basin are substantial contributors of air pollution and toxic risk affecting the residents of the South Coast Air Basin, primarily because the fuel used in transportation sources is based on petroleum, such as gasoline and diesel. Such overwhelming dependency on a single fuel makes California and this Basin vulnerable to supply shortages and consequent severe price hikes, that in turn could seriously affect California’s ability to move goods and people.

Alternative fuels, such as ethanol, can reduce this dependency on petroleum and also enable this agency to meet its targeted air quality goals. Twenty percent of the ethanol currently produced in the country is consumed in California. However, production of this corn-based ethanol is ultimately limited by a number of factors. To be sustainable in the long-term and on a large scale, it is imperative that ethanol be produced from forest and agricultural residues such as corn stalks and rice stalks, and other plant materials including grasses and wood grown for this purpose.


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December 29, 2006

BIO Blogs' Top Stories of 2006

2006 - A Watershed Year for BIOfuels

This was a watershed year for the biofuels industry. Fears about war, global warming, and pocketbook issues will affect public opinion, action, and purchases for decades to come. Starting with the President's "addiction to oil" admission in his State of the Union address and the rising carnage in the Middle East, followed by the spring/summer oil price spike and "The Inconvenient Truth" of global warming, the gordian knot of interrelated problems seems insurmountable.

And yet, as former CIA Director James Woolsey contends, national security can be greatly enhanced in the short term by building a cellulosic ethanol industry based on biomass conversion to ethanol. This would simultaneously reduce our addiction to fossil fuels using cheap feedstock and reduce runaway greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing our national self-reliance on clean renewable energy. The only question is a matter of will - do we have the commitment and persistence to fight for a future virtually free of dependence on foreign oil? The consequences of sticking with the status quo are too onerous to contemplate.

Worldwide technological developments, governmental mandates, and capital investments have been startlingly brisk this year. And yet, we are only at the "bleeding edge" of market development. 2007 promises to see the early commercial-scale deployments of many emerging technologies.

Here are their most significant developments of 2006, organized by Blog...

BIOstock Blog
Scientists set sights on biomass to reduce fossil fuel dependence
Tires-to-Ethanol Facility Planned for New Jersey
Using Algae to Recycle Flue Gas into Biofuels
Reducing Biofuel Risk through Feedstock Diversification
FLORIDA: County to Vaporize Trash
Expanded Recycling - a Key to Cutting Fossil Fuels and Global Warming
Forests: Carbon S(t)inks?
Renaissance of the Forest Products Industry
Cellulosic Ethanol from Woody Biomass
FLORIDA: Citrus Peels as BIOstock

BIOconversion Blog
DIGEST - California AB 1090 Issues and Support
The Military Surcharge for Oil
White House: The Advanced Energy Initiative
RFA: Ethanol Industry Outlook 2006
Ethanol Industry Braces for Growing Pains
CALIFORNIA: Los Angeles Waste-to-Energy Plan Passed Unanimously
Green Jobs for America: Two Reports
Visionary Investors Cast Their Eye on Ethanol
CALIFORNIA: Bioenergy Action Plan - Final Released
CBS 60 Minutes: The Ethanol Solution
CHINA: The Food vs. Energy Feedstock Conundrum
Syngas Fermentation - The Next Generation of Ethanol
U.S. D.O.E.: Roadmap for Developing Cleaner Fuels
CALIFORNIA: Governor Announces BioEnergy Action Plan
CALIFORNIA: Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006
U.S. D.O.E.: 5-year Plan for Biomass Conversion
Upgrading Existing Plants for Biomass Conversion
Global BIOstock/BIOfuels Database
Bioenergy Gateway: Energy from Wood
Woody Biomass-to-Ethanol Demonstration Plant Contracted

BIOoutput Blog
General Motors - Live Green/Go Yellow Campaign
Plug-in Partners National PHEV Initiative
MOVIE: Who Killed the Electric Car?
Recycling’s “China Syndrome”
Terra Preta: Black is the New Green
Developing Ethanol's Side-stream Chemicals
Impact of Global Growth on Carbon Emissions
U.S. D.O.E.: Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gases
BIOplastics: BIOdegradable by-products of BIOconversion
"Mermaids' Tears" - Unrecycled plastic chokes the seas
A Tale of Two Auto Shows

The final week of the year, BIOpact has written a Looking back on 2006 series of articles summarizing worldwide factors affecting development in the biomass conversion industry. It would be hard to find a more comprehensive view, broken down by geographic zone, summarizing the implications of global developments:
Looking back on 2006
The year in review: Asia
The year in review: Africa
The year in review: Latin America

Grist, the clever and controversial environmental news and commentary website, has put together a special series of stories on biofuels called Fill 'er Up. While I tend to be much more upbeat than the Grist writers, the stories are as thought-provoking - whereas the Gristmill Blog is as wild and wooly as the Grist readership.

The Renewable Energy Access has their own two yearend summaries. Renewable Energy Roadmap: Rural America Can Prosper addresses the impact reaching the 25x25 goal would have on farm income and jobs. They also offer an opinion of the Top Stories of 2006. However, most of these concern developments in solar energy.


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November 22, 2006

CALIFORNIA: Cities favoring Gasification over Combustion

Under pressure from key state politicians and environmental groups, the Southern California city of Burbank has abruptly postponed plans to renew a lucrative electricity contract with Utah-based Intermountain Power Agency (IPA). By doing so, Burbank has joined the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in rejecting out of state power contracts with vendors who contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

Six of the SoCal's largest cities depend on Intermountain for half to two-thirds of their electricity. In spite of that, many if not all may follow L.A. and Burbank's example. It is obvious that Californian utilities and politicians are starting to factor in the political and social costs of coal-fired energy.

The move to extend the contracts was prompted by new state legislation (SB 1368) that would prohibit cities from entering long-term contracts with energy vendors within or outside the state that do not meet the California Energy Commission (CEC) greenhouse gas emissions standards. Extending the contracts now would grandfather their terms.

It should be noted that the cities have been paying billions in long-term costs for construction of the out-of-state coal plants operated by IPA. Unless they extend the contracts they would lose the right to much cheaper power after those costs were paid off in 2027 and their contracts expired.

Annual CO2 emissions at the IPA plants total more than 16 million tons, according to an analysis by the conservation group Environmental Defense. Should IPA effect changes to their coal-fire process to meet the CEC standards, the cities could renew the contracts. However, this is not likely to happen without substantial upgrading to the IPA facilities.

According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times titled "More cities reject coal-fired power":

Intermountain's General Manager Reed Searle said the Utah agency worked for three years on the renewals and now was looking at ways to modernize its plants to bring them into compliance with California's greenhouse-gas legislation, including burning biomass — which includes fast-growing trees and plants as well as waste products — instead of coal, or possible burial of carbon dioxide. He warned that such measures "will be costly" to consumers. Biomass conversion would cost about $300 million, he said, and carbon capture and sequestration technologies would cost billions.

"We can't just blanket 100 miles of the desert with solar panels. And besides, solar doesn't work at night," said David Wright, general manager of Riverside Public Utilities. He and Burbank officials said they were most interested in integrated gasification combined cycle power, which creates cleaner gas and steam power from coal and could allow CO2 to be separated and buried.


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November 21, 2006

Cellulosic Ethanol – Snake Oil for the new millennium?

One of my favorite chemical engineers is Robert Rapier who writes the ever entertaining R-Squared Energy Blog.

He recently wrote an article entitled Cellulosic Ethanol Reality Check which is a critique on the hype surrounding "cellulosic ethanol" (CE). In the article he runs calculations on the volume of biomass necessary to support a CE plant and the farming acreage needed to supply that quantity. Although he is all for extending research for CE, he still feels it is being oversold by many investment-hungry entrepreneurs.

The bottom line is that it is going to take enormous swaths of land to supply these cellulosic ethanol plants, and it is questionable whether a farmed source of biomass can be counted on to run the facilities. Better to locate cellulosic ethanol facilities close to a massive source of waste biomass – say a very large municipal dump in which paper is sorted out, a paper mill, or some other consistent source of large volume biomass. If you then use the unconverted waste biomass for process heat, you could end up with a workable process.

I certainly don't advocate giving up on cellulosic ethanol, but we do need to approach this with a realistic and sober outlook. Men once desired to turn lead into gold. That was ultimately a futile quest (unless you want to try something like a nuclear reaction), but with cellulosic ethanol there is much more at stake. My impression is that many people in our government are basing energy policy decisions on the presumption that cellulosic ethanol is a done deal. My advice would be to have several backup plans.

Below is my extended response...

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Cellulosic Ethanol – Snake Oil for the new millennium?

I am a big believer that RD&D in cellulosic ethanol will reap big rewards for society. But while enzymatic hydrolysis may help squeeze out some return from agricultural waste, I am not confident that it justifies the full frontal RD&D that the D.O.E. seems to be endorsing.

The best feedstock for cellulosic ethanol is waste, which can be converted into biofuels using gasification and syngas fermentation. We are not talking about growing anything here or using any extra acreage. We are talking about converting agricultural, industrial, forest, and urban blight into cleaner air, cleaner lands, and cleaner fuels. In short, we are talking about extending recycling on a mass scale.

In L.A. we (the utilities including the LA/Department of Public Works and the LA Co. Department of Sanitation) are working on diverting landfill garbage to biorefineries - not just because of the electricity and biofuels we can generate but because we have a "Peak Landfill" problem. It's a much cleaner solution than waste-to-rail - shipping unrecyclables on 3-mile long trains each day 200 miles to the desert.

I just wrote an article about the forestry products industry call for using similar biorefineries to convert paper and pulp mill waste into electricity and biofuels using gasification. No extra trees needed - just blight to reprocess and fire-prone, diseased trees to convert. And the industry recognizes that the time is ripe because all their combustion boilers are hitting the end of their lifecycles.

We need to have a new industrial revolution focused on replacing combustion with gasification so that we can control carbon emissions. Syngas fermentation will help sequester the carbon in biofuels, green chemicals, and other new products.

I believe that the solution to the biofuels issue, and renewable energy in general, is going to be very gradual and decentralized.

Ethanol will not solve every problem. But it is a near universal fuel extender for internal combustion engines - and gradual infrastructural change is what we need right now (unless we are prepared for nuclear reactors and all-electric cars).

Ag is great for producing energy feedstock but it requires alot of input energy in the form of fertilizer, harvesting, and transport. Ag, forestry, and urban waste "harvests" are much more predictable, much more decentralized, and requires no excess cultivation.

I wish people would look more closely at waste as a cheap feedstock (some even say it is negative cost feedstock). It is the existing residual to our very wasteful industrial and waste management infrastructures. Not even the D.O.E. looks at it seriously enough and it is a WIN-WIN-WIN solution resource. Even if the net energy was zero, at least we would mitigate the waste disposal problem.

Carting wood to centralized biorefineries is not the low hanging fruit of biomass conversion. Instead, pulp and paper mills will very probably replace their boilers with gasification units and process their existing pre- and post-processing waste on site. This will extend their existing practice of producing much of their own energy while providing them with additional income opportunity. See Renaissance of the Forest Products Industry.

Same with municipal solid waste (MSW). Biorefineries will process the waste at the sorting centers where, at least in the L.A. plan, there is plenty of extra facilities space. This will save 2/3 of the diesel used to send the residual to landfills - and save 3/4 of the need for the landfill. See Expanded Recycling.

Since gasification allows for blended feedstock, new decentralized biorefineries will have great flexibility to respond to resource changes. For instance, wood-based or bagasse-based biorefineries in the Southeast could, in my scenario, respond to Katrina-type catastrophes by processing the excess C&D waste of the destruction. This would save the region the multiple blights of the destruction while creating jobs, reducing disease, and resupplying some of the lost energy.

It may sound like "snake oil" - but it's the best liquid fuel alternative we've yet to fully explore.


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November 11, 2006

Expanded Recycling - a Key to Cutting Fossil Fuels and Global Warming

What is "expanded recycling?"

To governmental agencies and utilities "expanded recycling" means changing regulations so we can move more trash from the black bin into the blue bin... or making more pre-sorted pickups available from multi-family dwellings (apartment buildings and condos). Some (Californian's Against Wastes and other environmental groups) see it as reducing the source of waste - reducing packaging while manufacturing products out of more biodegradable and recyclable materials. To them it also means holding manufacturers accountable for recovering their spent products and reusing their components. Certainly "expanded recycling" is all of these.

But to a growing legion of waste management professionals expanded recycling can also be achieved through biomass conversion technologies (CTs). According to their preferred waste management hierarchy, after the source of waste has been reduced and reused, and as much of the trash has been recycled and composted as possible, the bulk of the residual should be recycled molecularly using clean conversion technologies.

How big is this mountain of residuals? In spite of our best efforts at recycling, it is as big as it was when recycling started back decades ago - roughly 40 million tons per year in California. Why?... because of population growth and expanded consumption of packaged goods. Since most of these goods are imports, reducing or redesigning the source of waste is an unreal expectation without draconian change in consumer behavior and trade regulations.

Isn't halting growth good enough? No - because the only "ultimate" solution now is landfills and they are filling up fast. Los Angeles Co. Department of Sanitations' gargantuan landfill in Puente Hills (13,200 tons per day or approximately 65% of their responsibility) will run out of room within seven years. Their backup site is 200 miles away. That means using a new expensive "waste-by-rail" train system to ship the residuals to the desert. That will require the equivalent of a 3-mile long train each day!

So time is running out. Currently under evaluation for deployment of a new CT facility by the Los Angeles Department of Public Works are a number of suppliers - one supplier using anaerobic digestion, two using waste-to-fuel technology, and six using thermal technology. Using various clean biological and thermal processes they seek to recycle as much as 85% of the residual waste volume by converting it into its molecular components and reforming them into synthesis gas, sugars and oils, low sulfer diesel, and "green" chemicals.

The synthesis gas (primarily CO and H2) could be combusted - but a cleaner more cost-effective alternative would be to ferment it into ethanol or reap the hydrogen - the cleaner air renewable fuel alternatives for ending gasoline dependence. The thermal technologies would also provide a clean alternative source of steam for co-generating electricity.

What relevance is "expanded recycling" to global warming and California's AB32? Landfills reek methane (21 times more toxic than C02 as a greenhouse gas) and although modern landfills capture much of this gas, they have been identified as one of the principal targets of the carbon cap legislation. Other major targets are electrical power plants, oil refineries, and utilities. By using conversion technologies, positive emissions impacts can be made on all of these - fewer fossil fuel burning power plants; less dependence on high-polluting oil and oil refining process; more reliance on cleaner fuel vehicles and hybrids; fewer landfills and cleaner wastewater and solid waste disposal. A side benefit - the use of noisy, polluting trucks and trains to haul trash from sorting centers to landfills will be cut by an estimated 60%.

The utilities - mostly LA/Department of Public Works and LA/Department of Sanitation - need public understanding and support for their efforts to permit and deploy conversion technologies. These people are heroes in my book because in an age of increasing media exploited cynicism they are in the background valiantly solving problems. Warrantless legal battles with local communities and idealists puts a counter-productive strain on problem-solving. These problems are real and their social costs are mounting.

The status quo is the real enemy. We, the public and its media, need to support "our soldiers" on the front line - the utilities.


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October 19, 2006

CALIFORNIA: L.A. Solid Waste Task Force fights for Conversion Technology Reforms in Sacramento

If the recent passage of California AB32 (the "Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006") proved anything it is that there is considerable interest in revising the way the state addresses air quality, energy supply, and waste pollution problems. One hundred years of relying on fossil fuel combustion as the accepted energy paradigm has resulted in wasted energy and a super-consuming culture in which profligate waste is a status symbol.

It would surprise most Californians to learn that there is any debate that new technological approaches need to be developed and implemented without delay. Yet there is not only debate, but subterfuge and bad faith negotiating in the California State legislature that is frustrating the sincere, coordinated, and professional efforts of The Los Angeles County Solid Waste Management Committee (SWMC) to move America's third largest city to a cleaner and more energy self-sufficient future.

In 1990, The SCWMC established the Integrated Waste Management Task Force. The Task Force is comprised of representatives from local government, the solid waste management and recycling industry, and members of the general public, the business sector and the environmental movement.

The Alternative Technology Advisory Subcommittee of the Task Force is responsible for evaluating and promoting the development of conversion technologies to reduce dependence on landfills and incinerators.

On August 18, 2005, the Task Force formally adopted the Subcommittee's comprehensive Conversion Technology Evaluation Report. This Report represents a culmination of 18 months of exhaustive and very expensive research conducted in conjunction with URS Corporation. This report is the first step in the effort to deploy a demonstration conversion technology (CT) facility in Southern California, in order to obtain real-world data on the impacts and benefits of these technologies.

Incredibly, instead of supporting California's largest city in SWMC's efforts to develop conversion technologies (CTs), the State Assembly Natural Resources Committee has ignored the findings of the report including its numerous regulatory change recommendations. No reasons given. Through two rounds of committee review (AB 1090 and AB 2118), this committee has manipulated its meeting agendas and funneled negotiations through unelected organizations with a vested interest in the status quo. It is a blatent attempt to wear down the Task Force of its energy and "starve" a chief lobbyist, the BioEnergy Producers Association headed by Senator David Roberti (ret.), of its war chest.

This blog has recently received a copy of a letter sent to the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) in Sacramento confirming the frustration which the Solid Waste Management Committee of the Task Force has been experiencing - "Although California is leading the way, the development of conversion technologies in the State has stalled."

Through a Catch-22 of state regulations no CTs can be deployed in California unless successful air emissions tests are passed within the State. In other words, you have to pass a test in a facility you are not allowed to build - not even simply to run the test. Test results from outside the State do not qualify. Test results of similar technologies do not qualify.

One year ago three CT facilities - a pyrolysis plant in Romoland, California, a pilot syngas fermentation plant in Arkansas, and a plasma arc gasification plant in Richland, Washington - were tested for air quality emissions by the strictly independent Center for Environmental Research and Technology of the Bourns College of Engineering of the University of California/Riverside (aka, CE-CERT). According to Principal Development Engineer William Welch who conducted the report:

The pilot plant test results that we have witnessed and have evaluated independently indicate compliance or near compliance with air pollutant emissions regulations.

In fact, most of the emissions levels were mere fractions on the standards that are sought by the extremely vigilant South Coast Air Quality Management District. The one non-compliant result was for NOx emissions from the Romoland pyrolysis plant. The operators were unaware of the testing standard. Through modification of their syngas scrubbing process, the emissions today are well below the standard and would pass any test with flying colors.

Which proves a very important point. For there to be any advance in substantially changing the hazardous combustion paradigm, we need to deploy investment-worthy solutions, test them, refine them, and test them again. That is the procedure in most states. If the facility cannot be made to comply, it is shut down and the investors, the risk-takers, lose. At no time is the public at any risk.

Unless, of course, the status quo is left to persist - which results in keeping the public health in constant danger until other solutions are deployed. As the parent of four, one with chronic asthma, I have to ask - how can the inertia of the State government be good for curing the status quo?


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October 13, 2006

L.A. and U.K. Discuss Sustainable Energy

Los Angeles (October 13, 2006): Last July, two "heads of state," British Prime Minister Tony Blair and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, met in Long Beach, California to discuss global warming, energy technology, and other environmental issues. As a direct followup, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom hosted an "International Sustainable Energy Symposium" on the UCLA campus. The purpose: to provide an opportunity for academics, technologists, and policy makers from both sides of the Atlantic to share notes (and business cards) on a broad range of issues involving sustainable energy and climate change.

Why conduct the symposium?
Bob Peirce, the British Consul General at Los Angeles stressed the commonality and mutual respect that the U.K. and U.S. have for each other on the subjects of energy and air quality. He reminded the audience that the first nation to embrace coal during the industrial revolution (the U.K.) dominated the world militarily, economically, and politically. Similarly, the U.S. achieved the same result when it was the first to develop and exploit oil. His inference was clear - there will be a certain advantage to whomever is the first to embrace renewable energy. Collaboration will speed the process and strengthen the bond between our nations.

This symposium was an opportunity to consider and learn about the focus of various groups in each country. The subject matter was as diverse as the biographies of the panels:
- The "academic panel" discussed wind and water power, photovoltaics, electrical grids, green architecture, and environmental education.
- The "industrial panel" addressed biomass conversion technologies, and utility initiatives for renewable energy.
- The "policy panel" focused on California AB 32 air quality assessments, low carbon technologies, collaborative networks, and air quality regulations and control.

Biomass Conversion Technologies
Relevant to the focus of this blog, biomass conversion, Coby Skye from the Los Angeles Department of Public Works presented a report on L.A. efforts to identify and deploy clean conversion technologies (CTs). Many facilities in Europe and Japan have deployed clean waste-to-energy facilities. The U.S. is lagging behind although revolutionary clean technologies have already be tested in pilot plants throughout the country. The LA/DPW will most certainly build one of the first commercial-scale CT facilities in the country.

No only will CTs divert waste from landfills, they will contribute to cleaning up air pollution, generating green electricity, and reducing our dependence on oil. Questions from the audience focused on the state regulatory requirements that would need to be changed to enable Los Angeles' RENEW L.A. plan to be deployed. He said that the DPW would proceed with its plans and continue to make its case for Los Angeles until the necessary changes are made in Sacramento. Los Angeles is running out of landfill space.

Nancy Sutley, Los Angeles Deputy Mayor on Energy Environment spoke about Mayor Villaraigosa's recent trip to the U.K. and the city's efforts to: purchase clean energy vehicles, expand the mass transit system, tap methane gases from landfills, plant one million trees, and expedite green building permitting. Questions about the Mayor's support of conversion technologies and specifically RENEW L.A. were repeatedly addressed by the audience during and after the presentation. She referred favorably to the summer's Emerging Waste Technologies Forum at UCLA where CTs were the topic of discussion. However, she appeared to hedge any commitment on the Mayor's position by saying there were passionate viewpoints expressed on both sides of the issue.

Richard Germain of Navigant Consulting was on hand to moderate the industries panel. He has been personally involved in drafting many recommendations and preparing the Governor's BioEnergy Action Plan for California. As stated in the report "The recommendations contained in the Action Plan are intended to create the necessary institutional and regulatory changes that will substantially increase the production and use of bioenergy in California. These recommendations represent near-term first steps that can be taken by state agencies and the Bioenergy Interagency Working Group to invigorate the biopower and biofuels sectors."

Continuing Collaboration
While the purpose may have been to foster cross-Atlantic business relationships, there was too little time for attendees to meet and discuss ways to continue the collaboration. However, it is clear that there are many benefits to continuing collaboration. I invite attendees to this event to submit links to biomass conversion developments they hear about and comment frequently to any articles posted here.


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October 8, 2006

CALIFORNIA: L.A. Politicians Talk Clean Air

Los Angeles is the nation's crucible for clean air politics.

Its harbors are the nation's largest entry port for fossil fuels, automobiles, and other Pacific Rim merchandise - which are, in turn, shipped via diesel-spewing haulers and trains to the four corners of the North America. Its clogged freeways are a study in idle vehicle emissions. Its oil refineries befoul the air while the concrete-lined L.A. "River" rushes debris and stinking pollution to our oft-tainted ocean playgrounds. Add infrequent rainfall, brush fires, and the seasonal inversion layers that hover over its suburban valleys and you can easily understand why Los Angeles annually ranks highest as the home of the dirtiest air in the country by the American Lung Association.

This was the backdrop to a very convivial evening featuring key L.A. politicians and environmentalists at L.A.'s Museum of Tolerance Theater on October 5th. The topic under discussion - "The Impact of the November Initiatives." It was an opportunity to meet and listen to political stakeholders explain their positions on key environmental legislation before the voters - in particular Prop 87, The Clean Alternative Energy Initiative. The 90-minute panel discussion was video-taped by the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) for eventual airing on television.

The line-ups were impressive. When scheduled Speaker of the California Assembly Fabian Nunez was unable to make it, we were treated to three distinguished substitutes - Assemblymember Fran Pavley (co-author of AB32, the historic California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, Assemblymember Judy Chu (Chair of the Appropriations Committee), and State Senator Debra Bowen (candidate for CA Secretary of State). All represent districts in Southern California. The other slated politicians included L.A. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and my own L.A. City Councilmember Wendy Greuel (District 2).

The environmentalists on the panel included the leaders of The Nature Conservancy (Mark Burget), the Coalition for Clean Air (Tim Carmichael), The TreePeople (Andy Lipkis), and the Department of Water and Power (David Nahai).

There were four proposed state measures that came up repeatedly in the discussion. There was general agreement that voters should support Proposition 1B (the $19.9 billion Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act) to reinforce California's traffic infrastructure. Also supported was the $5.4 billion Proposition 84 (Water Quality, Safety and Supply, Food Control, Natural Resource Protection, Park Improvements Bonds Initiatives Statute).

Soundly condemned was Proposition 90 (the Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property, Initiative Constitutional Amendment). The audience was warned that this was not to be confused with the controversial national eminent domain judgements that the proponents would have us believe. Passage of this amendment would significantly hamstring the state's ability to implement necessary zoning changes to advance public interests.

The main focus, however, was on Prop 87 - for which there was no opposition voiced in the discussion. The local concern for the state of air quality and pollution, particularly in the coastal waters around Southern California's tourist attraction beaches, has trumped any other concern about the efficacy of the bureaucracy the proposition would establish or the impact on business in California. It appears that these politicians, representing every level of L.A. leadership, are hungry to find popular approval for some measures that would otherwise be beyond the reach of Sacramento to even consider much less enact (see CLCV 2005 California Environmental Scorecard).

While 2006 has seen election-year passage of vote-getting environmental and alternative energy legislation - The Million Solar Roofs Plan (SB1) and the CA Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) - the key to true improvement in clean air will come through "boring" regulatory reform and a loosening of advanced technology permitting.

Without reform many of the innovative responses to the mandates of AB32 (such as L.A.'s revolutionary RENEW L.A. plan) will never be implemented. As a result, landfill and wastewater pollution, truncated recycling efforts, inefficient waste management, environmental injustice, and fossil fuel electricity generation - the true clean air challenges - will remain intransigently the status quo.

With reform, innovative business ventures will raise investment capital and begin deploying new technological solutions that will achieve the target emissions reductions of AB32.


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October 7, 2006

CALIFORNIA PROP 87: Bureaucracy vs. Private Enterprise

Chevron is about to get hit hard in the pocketbook - albeit a pocketbook full of recent windfall oil profits.

To its credit, Chevron has tried to get in front of the renewable energy movement. They claim that they spend $300 million/year in technology to support new energy sources and 15 months ago they created their "Will You Join Us?" campaign - a marketing tool to affect public perception about Chevron's guardianship of its customers' energy security. In the field of public relations they are head and shoulders above their competition (remember the Exxon Valdez).

What troubles Chevron is that they are the major oil producer in California and the state has The Clean Alternative Energy Initiative (Prop 87) up for a vote this November. This initiative will tax producers a total of $4 Billion on oil they extract within the state. These revenues will be administered by the reorganized California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority. The new funds will be used to finance research and production incentives for alternative energy, alternative energy vehicles, efficient technologies, education and training according to its very loosely worded percentage breakdown.

Chevron is spending an historic amount of money fighting California's Prop 87. But the voting "parisioners" in this citadel to automotive freedom are mad as hell and the initiative is likely to pass no matter what arguments Chevron presents. Sounds great to the public but I am not so sure.

Does California need another extra-governmental bureaucracy? I believe the challenge before Californians is not money - it's vision and implementation on a timely basis. A speedy and successful renewable energy paradigm shift will require the R&D and deployment of many new technologies addressing a host of challenges and opportunities. Too many, in fact, for a single bureaucracy to grasp, much less manage and fund with integrity. Is it realistic to expect this authority, which only managed expenditures of $203,000 last year, to judiciously administer over 20 times that amount in the each of the next ten years?

The primary ingredient for success of the paradigm shift will be profit motive - the blind spot of bureaucracies. We have a precedent for how paradigm shifts can take place in a short amount of time without an extortion tax (L.A. Times editorial) levied against any industry. We saw the breathtaking rise of Silicon Valley during the 70s-90s on a unifying vision of placing computers on every desk and in every household. The ROI was not only economic but this spectacular paradigm shift produced the fastest rise in productivity and communications in the history of man.

If Prop 87 passes, no real progress will come from the oil profit tax unless the new bureaucracy can persuade the state government to reform regulations and permitting of new technologies. As the BioEnergy Producers Association's president CA Senator David Roberti (ret.) can attest, passing energy, waste management, and the environmental reforms are much more challenging than what Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have ever had to face.

Progress will not come without making mistakes - lots of them - and California's environmental idealists are prone to shoot down unproven technologies before deployment. Legislators must lead and educate their constituents on the merits of emerging technology now that California's groundbreaking Global Warming Solutions Act has been signed.

If Sacramento can capture the vision and make the proper reforms necessary, we won't need the $4 Billion. Companies will flock again to California - our employment and tax coffers will rise on the investments. If Sacramento does not support the new bureaucracy in the face of environmental idealists, no amount of money will be enough to deploy the changes needed. In that case, California will be stuck with the status quo, and $4 Billion will be wasted.


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September 19, 2006

CALIFORNIA: National Latino Congreso Endorses Conversion Technologies

The deployment of community-based waste management technologies is not only a public sanitation and health issue, it is also an employment and an environmental justice issue. As Latinos are elected to strong leadership positions, they are devoting time and commitment to community action plans that will have a positive impact on the state's quality of life.

At the recent National Latino Congreso held in Los Angeles, many proposals were introduced and voted on pledging support for activities that will improve the health and environment of all Californian communities. One proposal that was passed demonstrates the group's awareness of the opportunities and benefits inherent in conversion technologies.

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RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF SOLID WASTE:
CONVERSION TECHNOLOGIES AND ZERO WASTE


WHEREAS, the California Integrated Waste Management Board indicates that over 40 million tons of waste are landfilled every year just in California, despite a 50% recycling rate; and
WHEREAS, landfill space is at a premium, and disposal rates are estimated to increase; and
WHEREAS, the siting of landfills and solid waste disposal facilities is a major Environmental Justice issue, and eliminating the need for disposal reduces the impact on communities with nearby disposal facilities impacting their quality of life; and
WHEREAS, conversion technologies are processes capable of converting residual post-recycled solid waste and other organic feedstocks into useful products, alternative fuels, and clean, renewable energy, and offer strategic energy, economic, social and environmental benefits; and
WHEREAS, biofuels derived from solid waste and excess biomass via conversion technologies and can be a clean, renewable fuel source that reduces our dependency on fossil fuels; and
WHEREAS, the use of conversion technologies can contribute solutions to California’s critical waste disposal and environmental problems, and result in substantial environmental benefits for California, which include reducing the amount of waste disposed in landfills, production of renewable energy, and reduction air emissions including greenhouse gas emissions; and
WHEREAS, conversion technologies can create “green collar” jobs with good wages and benefits through increased private investment;

THEREFORE, be it resolved that the 2006 National Latino Congress:

1. Support the enhancement and expansion of waste reduction and recycling programs nationwide, and the adoption of zero waste goals to eliminate the concept of waste;

2. Conserve natural resources and reduce the amount of hazardous materials in the waste stream by supporting and promoting preferable purchasing programs, product redesign, advanced disposal fees and other manufacturer responsibility measures as well as enhanced collection and recycling infrastructure;

3. Urge state and local communities throughout the country to invest in landfill alternatives, such as conversion technologies, which create “green collar” jobs and make use of abundant biomass and organic waste resources in an environmentally beneficial manner;

4. Lobby lawmakers at the State and Federal level to provide clear permitting pathways for the development of conversion technologies, and properly define and incentivize the development of these technologies based on sound science and their life-cycle environmental impacts and benefits in relation to other solid waste management options.


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September 15, 2006

CALIFORNIA: Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006

On September 15th The Sacramento Bee published a commentary titled The greening of California about the recently passed California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The author, Wayne Madsen, is "a contributing writer for the liberal Online Journal."

He enthusiasticallly believes that California is implementing "the nation's first sweeping carbon curbs law." He first tells the reader that "far from hurting California's huge economy -- will provide a boost to its burgeoning "green business" sector. Other states should consider following suit." He goes on to assure businesses that they will not be hurt by the new measures, rather a new "green industrial" base will develop. For the most part, we agree.

But then, in an all too familiar anti-establishment screed, he lambastes the very businesses and municipal governments that will be charged with complying with the legislation:

"New ideas on eco-friendly energy initiatives are not popular with many obstinate oil industry and chamber of commerce leaders -- individuals, who, under the Bush-Cheney administration, all too often have become pampered fat cats. The tide is finally turning against the corporate naysayers who've repeatedly sabotage the drive to produce a cleaner, healthier planet. California -- always a global trendsetter -- now has found one trend that transcends surfboards and Barbie dolls and just may eventually save Mother Earth."

Below is my response to Madsen's commentary...

Give innovators a chance.

Blaming industry and municipal leaders as obstructionists is simplistic myopia. There are literally billions of investment dollars impatiently waiting for the California legislature to enact regulatory reform that will enable entrepreneurs and developers to deploy the kind of technologies that this law is meant to foster.

Case in point - L.A.'s RENEW L.A. plan. This visionary waste management plan will use clean, safe conversion technologies to reduce dependence on shrinking landfills, lower greenhouse gases, produce green electricity and biofuels, and support environmental justice while providing thousands of new "green collar" jobs for Californians. But because of the inertia of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, outdated regulations and permitting hurdles have and will continue to hold up implementation for years.

Who is intimidating the politicians? To a surprising extent it is groups like Californians Against Waste and their unquestioning followers who self-righteously purport to represent recycling and environmental interests - but whose agenda is as turf-protecting and self-serving as the businesses, utilities, and municipal governments they unjustly decry. Because of the multiplying dangers of the status quo, many in the green movement are starting to recognize the urgent need to be more open-minded about alternative energy technologies.

Since California is going to hold companies responsible for meeting new emissions guidelines, legislators MUST give them the tools and authorization to plan and deploy clean replacement technologies. Progress results from an evolutionary process of planning, research and practical application.

The mantra "Environmentalism" is a "golden calf" to the masses who ignorantly allow the status quo to continue to fester into mounting disasters. We need to write new laws that give innovators a chance to reduce greenhouse gases.


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August 11, 2006

SOUTH AFRICA: Beating Poverty with Biofuel Jobs

In Los Angeles, state officials are calling them "green collar" jobs estimated to be worth seven times their current counterparts in the waste management business.

In South Africa, the biofuels sector is seen as a source of salvation that could halve poverty by 2014 (according to this report from BioPact). Thousands of well-paying jobs could be created producing a much needed resource in response to the skyrocketing world price for petroleum.

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An in-depth look at South Africa's nascent biofuels sector

South Africa is leading the development of biofuels in Africa. Today, we have a look at the potential, the production facilities being built and planned, the government policies being crafted, and the social, economic and environmental effects of the country's transition to the biofuels economy. Biofuels are considered to be the biggest single economic opportunity for South Africa, comparable to that of its vast mining industry which was established early last century.

Southern Africa Biofuels Association (Saba) CEO Erhard Seiler tells Engineering News that the country's biofuels industry has the potential to produce 10% of South Africa’s petrol and diesel needs by 2010. South Africa currently consumes about 11 bn litres (2.9 bn gallons) of petrol and 8 bn litres (2.1 bn gallons) of diesel a year.

Like Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia and other developing nations, South Africa's initiative to develop the local biofuels industry is part of a larger framework aimed at poverty alleviation and socio-economic development. Biofuels are a priority sector of South Africa's Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative (Asgisa), which aims to stimulate economic growth, create a large number of new jobs and halve poverty by 2014.

Another economic benefit of bioethanol production is the sale of carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol. Environmental finance group Sterling Waterford Securities, which owns 50% of Ethanol Africa, listed one of the world’s first carboncredit investment products on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange last year. One litre of bioethanol produces half the greenhouse-gas emission of a litre of conventional petrol. Hence, the production and use of bioethanol could assist South Africa to earn valuable carbon credits by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

South Africa is the third-worst offender in the world concerning the per-capita production of greenhouse-gas emissions and the use of cleaner fuels will improve air quality in urban areas.


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August 7, 2006

Recycling’s “China Syndrome”

At last month's Southern California Emerging Waste Technologies Forum State Senator David Roberti (ret.) made a statement about the duplicity of state policy on "diversion credits" for specific forms of recycling. I had heard Roberti make a similar statement at a hearing last November but hadn't researched it. Here is what I have learned since...

What are "diversion credits"?

In 1989, Assembly Bill 939, known as the Integrated Waste Management Act was passed because of the increase in California's waste stream and the decrease of its landfill capacity. As a result, the current California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) was established. A disposal reporting system with CIWMB oversight was created and facility and program planning was implemented.

AB 939 mandates a reduction of waste being disposed: jurisdictions were required to meet diversion goals of 25% by 1995 and 50% by the year 2000. Those that didn't meet these deadlines were liable to receive noncompliance fines. Whether a form of diversion receives credit toward the target or not is based on an ongoing refinement of legal definitions in the state's legislature.

Currently, California municipalities qualify for diversion credits on trash that recyclers ship to the China. China can process waste far less expensively than we can in the U.S. because of cheap labor and their incredibly toxic emissions and health standards. As long as the waste is segregated as recyclable it makes no difference how it is processed afterwards as far as our diversion counting is concerned. Talk about sweeping a problem under the rug!

Even waste China is not asking for, e.g. the e-waste piling up in China’s coastal river valleys, is considered diverted according to our counting methodology. Whether the Chinese dump it or we dump it - it shouldn't receive diversion credit.

Believe it or not, if local municipalities instead opt to build clean CTs - conversion technology facilities using gasification or pyrolysis to significantly reduce the volume of waste to be landfilled while generating green energy and clean fuels - they would NOT receive diversion credit! This in spite of the fact that it would represent an ultimate and environmentally responsible processing of the waste near the source.

Why should facilities that convert waste into heat, electricity, and renewable fuels not earn credits for the municipalities that build them? The answer is that recycling groups are afraid of losing control of any portion of the waste stream - that such credits would create irresistable incentives to municipalities at risk of being fined for non-compliance. Once municipalities gain control of their waste streams, recyclers may get less, or as Scott Smithline of Californians Against Waste (CAW) worded it, "“We are concerned that demand, that hunger for feedstock, is going to pull materials from other traditional recycling uses.”

So the environmental interests are taking second seat to bickering over control of the waste stream. But the duplicity is far worse than that. Consider the trail of the waste that goes to China -

1 - The ships that transport the trash thousands of miles to China spew tons of greenhouse gases from burning bulk fuel (the least refined and most toxic oil-based fuel sold). These emissions into the atmosphere return to California and points in-between.

2 - The destinations in China are unregulated, polluting factories that, among other repugnant policies, employ children as sorters within close proximity to toxic ovens that smelt and reform the plastic. Are we so unprincipled that we would ship recyclables to foreign destinations knowing that their low health standards would endanger the workers that handle our trash? Should we credit those shipments for landfill diversion?

3 - Airbourne particulate matter from all unregulated Chinese combustion factories reaches back to the U.S. In a recent article in the San Diego Union Tribune entitled China's growing air pollution reaches American skies, UC/David researchers have evidence that as China consumes more fossil fuels to feed its energy-hungry economy, the U.S. is seeing a sharp increase in trans-Pacific pollution that could affect human health, worsen air quality and alter climate patterns.

4 - Plastic and trash debris from throughout Asia accumulates and returns to North America via Pacific ocean currents. In a story titled Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas writers for the Los Angeles Times detailed evidence of waste that was accumulating in giant offshore gyres:

The debris can spin for decades in one of a dozen or more gigantic gyres around the globe, only to be spat out and carried by currents to distant lands. The U.N. Environment Program estimates that 46,000 pieces of plastic litter are floating on every square mile of the oceans. About 70% will eventually sink.


The purpose of this article is not to point fingers at the recycling industry. Rather, to insist that the California Integrated Waste Management Board's attempts to modernize California's recycling policies, including diversion credits, receive the full backing and support of the California legislature – which it clearly has not. California not only needs to reduce the source of its waste and expand programs for dealing with more types of waste, but also must update the definition of transformation and conversion technologies so that we can process more waste, more completely while creating "green collar jobs" for our own workers. These are the objectives of AB 2118, currently hung up in negotiation before the California Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

Exporting our waste to poorer countries is unprincipled and uncivilized. Furthermore, CTs represent a new opportunity to significantly expand our recycling efforts, reduce landfill demand, suppress pollution of our atmosphere and oceans, reduce greenhouse gases, and create new energy resources to help meet the electricity and fuel needs of future generations both here and abroad.


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August 6, 2006

BioConversion Stakeholders’ Gallery

A new feature of this blog is the BioConversion Stakeholders’ Gallery - a listing of prominent conversion technology stakeholders who are making their opinions known about CTs at conferences.

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This is a listing of speakers at the Southern California Emerging Waste Technologies Forum held at UCLA on July 27, 2006. Almost all are in favor of RENEW L.A. and advancing R&D and deployment of CTs in California. More biographical details are available by clicking on their links.

Richard Alarcon - CA State Senator

Cynthia Babich – Del Amo Action Committee
Nicole Bernson - City of Los Angeles Councilman Smith, Sr. Policy Advisor, RENEW L.A.
Fernando Berton - California Integrated Waste Management Board
Susan Brown - California Energy Commission
Julie Butcher – General Manager, SEIU Local 347

Karen Coca - L.A. City Bureau of Sanitation

Vijay Dhir - UCLA  School of Engineering Dean

Evan Edgar – California Refuse Removal Council

Brendan Huffman – Valley Industry and Commerce Association

Dan Jacobson – Environment California

James Liao - UCLA Vice Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular

Ellen Mackey – East Valley Coalition
Vasilios Manousiouthakis - UCLA Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Dr. Kay Martin – BioEnergy Producers’ Association
Rhonda Mills – Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies
Cindy Montanez - CA Assembly Member
Mark Murray – Californians Against Waste

Randall Neudeck - Board of Directors, Valley Industry and Commerce

Romel Pascual - L.A. Mayor's Office, Associate Director for Environment
Cheryl Peace - Board Member, California Integrated Waste Management Board
Roberto Peccei - UCLA Vice Chancellor for Research

David Roberti - CA State Senator (Ret.), BioEnergy Producers’ Association
Rita Robinson – Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation

Ron Saldana - Los Angeles County Disposal Association
Greig Smith - City of Los Angeles Councilman
Coby Skye - Los Angeles County Department of Public Works
Nancy Sutley - Los Angeles Deputy Mayor for Energy and the Environment

Eugene Tseng - UCLA Extension, Recycling and MSW Management Certificate Program
Charles Tupac – Southern California Air Quality Management District

Lee Wallach – The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California
William Welch – University of California, Riverside
Jane Williams – California Communities Against Toxics

Yair Zadik - Arrow Ecology


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August 4, 2006

CALIFORNIA: Identifying the New Environmentalists

There is a battle raging in the halls of Sacramento over the future of waste disposal in California. In many ways identification of the true guardians of waste disposal environmentalism is being brought into question.

The crux of the debate concerns overdue changes in state regulations defining "conversion technologies" (CTs) and their place in the current waste hierarchy. The outcome of the struggle will determine whether the environmental movement to recycle the state's growing waste problem will stall or move forward. At stake are a myriad of growing public concerns - not only waste disposal but also landfill availability, global warming, gas prices, ground pollution, air pollution, electricity generation, ethanol production, environmental justice, employment, and war-related oil dependency.

On one side are "old guard" idealists of established recycling and emissions watchdog organizations and their non-scientific supporters who have built the recycling infrastructure that exists today. As much progress as has been achieved to date, recycling has only managed to handle the growth of trash in the state and has failed to divert the original volume it was set up to reduce.

On the other side are "new guard" professional environmentalists from the scientific community, universities, government boards, utilities, and industry who have been actively involved in identifying, developing, and testing new CTs. These renewable bioenergy alternatives will significantly extend the amount of waste biomass that can be recycled.

Regrettably, the idealists have become the obstructive establishment that needs to open their eyes to new CTs (like gasification and pyrolysis) and the clearcut evidence of the innovation’s problem-solving potential and emissions-free performance. In their arguments, they insist that CTs conform to standards much more stringent than those established by the Air Quality Management District. When the positive test results are provided, the data is not challenged - it is ignored - frustrating the communication process.

As Ed Begley, Jr. wrote in November, 2005 in a letter to Assemblymember Loni Hancock of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee:

I recognize and applaud my colleagues in the environmental arena for the benefits their efforts and work over these many decades of Earth Days have accomplished. Perhaps the lack of a defining difference between pyrolytic conversion and incineration has clouded the ability of the non-scientific community’s mind to understand the difference.

Please consider comparing the environmental performance of conversion technologies against other methods of recycling, such as smelting plants that are not subject to the same repressive statutory and regulatory restrictions. In addition, consider the economic impact on California’s labor force of exporting recycled materials to China, when they could be put to better use here at home.


In March 2006, a Director of the Bioenergy Producers Association, Paul Relis, wrote an enlightening article for BioCycle magazine tracing the history of recycling and its potential for the future. Mr. Relis has been a chief negotiator in support of CT legislation in Sacramento (AB1090 and AB2118).

Below is the entirety of the article he wrote...

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Conversion Technologies, Recycling and Renewable Energy subscriber only
by Paul Relis
BioCycle, Vol. 47, No. 3

With the state's recycling rate at over 50 percent but landfilled waste still high, California debates best ways to convert organic residuals into sustainable power - and get support of environmental opponents.

Paul Relis is founding Executive Director of the Community Environmental Council of Santa Barbara, California, and is now President of its Board of Directors. From 1991-1998, he was the Environmental Member of the California Integrated Waste Management Board. In 1998, he became Senior Vice President of CR&R, Inc. - a company which operates transfer stations and MRFs, and is building a green waste composting facility. He has visited conversion facilities worldwide.

THERE is a vigorous debate underway in California over whether or not to encourage the development of conversion technologies (CTs). Conversion technologies refer to systems that can thermochemically (high temperature) or biochemically (low temperature) convert solid wastes now being landfilled into energy, liquid fuels such as ethanol, or chemicals.

The debate has pitted proponents of conversion technologies, mostly very small companies who have spent decades trying to apply specific technologies such as gasification, pyrolysis, and distillation to the management of the solid waste stream against California's major environmental and recycling organizations. Why should there be such a raging debate over CTs in California that has among the most ambitious recycling laws in the nation and progressive renewable energy policy? And why is this debate important to the future of waste and materials management in the U.S.?

The roots of the California debate go back to the mid-1980s when recycling was the long unfulfilled dream of environmentalists and recycling organizations. They were pitted against the incinerator firms, financial institutions and several large local governments such as Los Angeles, San Diego and Contra Costa Counties where proposals were under consideration to build large waste-to-energy facilities that required at least several thousand tons per day of dedicated waste. The facility opponents believed that if these projects were approved, they would doom recycling and foul California's already dirty air.

By the late 1980s, incineration proposals had politically been defeated. The elimination of waste incineration as a disposal option, coupled with a projected landfill crisis in Southern California, caused the California Assembly and Senate to embrace recycling. With the support of California's governor, the nation's most ambitious recycling bill (AB 939) was signed into law in 1989.

This far reaching statute set in motion a multibillion dollar investment in a recycling collection infrastructure - undoubtedly the largest investment by any state in the country. As a result of this investment, California's near 90 percent dependency on landfill in 1990 was reduced by nearly 40 percent by 2005. According to the most recent information from the California Integrated Waste Management Board, the state's diversion rate from landfill is at 50 percent.

While AB 939 extensively promoted recycling, it was also explicitly an antiincineration bill. For the handful of incinerators that existed at the time of its passage, it limited diversion credit for these facilities and discouraged any future development of incineration. It also lumped any technologies even remotely related to incineration, such as pyrolysis and gasification, into the same category as incineration along with distillation. Consequently, for the next 15 years little, if any development of these technologies were undertaken in California.

FACTORS CONVERGE

By 2003, a convergence of factors were beginning to manifest in California that gave rise to taking another look at so called “noncombustion” thermochemical technologies such as gasification. Spiraling energy prices in California spurned on by the Enron debacle and poorly conceived deregulation of the utility industry vastly increased California's expenditures for electricity. By 2004, concerns about global warming along with the reemergence of concerns over landfill capacity, particularly in Southern California, prompted a fresh look at what role CTs might play in California's integrated waste management system.

Responding to these and other considerations, the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) was directed by the California legislature to undertake an extensive study of CT and to report back to the legislature on the status of these technologies, their public health impacts and their compatibility or conflict with recycling. The University of California was given a prime contract to evaluate the technical, economic and health impacts of conversion technology while RTI, a private consulting firm, was assigned the task of evaluating what impacts CTs might have on the recycling collection infrastructure.

SEVEN REGIONAL CONVERSION TECHNOLOGY FACILITIES

While these studies were underway, several local governments within the state undertook their own investigations of CTs by soliciting requests for qualifications from conversion technology vendors and subjecting these requests to third party evaluations. Los Angeles commissioned its own independent studies to determine if CTs might help meet its solid waste management needs. In total, more than $3 million have been spent on studies over the past two years to probe CTs' commercial viability, their environmental risks and benefits, and their relationship to continued development of recycling in California.

The Los Angeles study, Evaluation of Alternative Solid Waste Processing Technologies, conducted by URS Corporation, found that with respect to air emissions both thermochemical and biochemical systems are “expected to result in emissions well below regulatory limits.” With respect to life cycle analysis, the study concluded that thermochemical and biochemical conversion technologies could be expected to “create significant energy savings when compared to landfilling. This energy savings results from a combination of syngas and electrical energy production, as well as from materials recovery and recycling.”

According to a recent resource management blueprint for Los Angeles, RENEW L.A., the City of Los Angeles, in spite of its 62 percent diversion rate, still generates 14,000 tons of landfilled waste - enough waste to produce 100-340 megawatts of renewable energy a day or enough electrical power for 100,000 to 300,000 households.

The plan calls for the development of seven regional CT facilities over the next 20 years and argues that these facilities will have the following benefits for the City of Los Angeles:
• Drastic reductions in truck and rail transportation of waste and their associated air quality and traffic congestion impacts;
• Conservation of limited virgin resources;
• Significant reduction in environmental impacts from landfill;
• and Generation of renewable energy.

CONVERSION TECHNOLOGIES COMPLEMENT RECYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE

The findings in the comprehensive study of CTs by the Riverside and Davis campuses of the University of California (UC) are consistent with the L.A. study with respect to environmental benefits, health concerns and renewable energy. In addition, the UC and RTI studies suggest that conversion technologies should complement, rather than conflict with, California's AB 939 recycling infrastructure. This is because most conversion facilities proposed in the state include either front end MRFs to further extract recyclables or extract recyclables within the conversion process itself. Estimates of further extraction of recyclables range from about five to 15 percent and these recyclables would come from the processing of garbage that is not currently being addressed by existing recycling programs. In cities and counties where recycling rates are already at 50 percent or greater, overall recycling rates with conversion technology could range from between the mid-50 percent range to as high as 70 percent.

The UC study found that “CTs provide the potential of converting materials that are currently landfilled into electricity, chemical, or other products such as synthetic diesel and gasoline transportation fuels.” As much as 10 percent of California's electrical demand could be met through the development of CTs. CTs could meet much of California's ethanol demand using currently disposed MSW.

The UC study states that: “Existing data and facilities in locations around the world indicated that conversion technologies can operate within constraints established by regulatory requirements…These factors indicated that it is very likely that conversion technologies with the most advanced environmental controls would be able to meet regulatory requirements in California.”

These findings were based upon extensive information on CTs gathered from around the world, particularly in Europe and Japan where the most conversion facilities exist that have used municipal wastes as a fuel source. Actual emission levels from operating facilities were obtained from government regulators in these countries rather than reliance upon industry sponsored data. In addition, several pilot facilities in the United States provided their data to the UC. Researchers from the UC were allowed to witness the actual emissions testing and review the results.

The UC study concluded that conversion technologies can meet California's regulatory requirements with respect to specific emissions concerns such as dioxins and furans, and that test results suggest that emissions would be many times below the regulatory requirements of the Federal Republic of Germany, Japan, the U.S. EPA and California's South Coast Air Quality Management District.

DEBATE CONTINUES ABOUT MOVING FORWARD

Proponents of CT point to Europe's massive commitment to curbing greenhouse emissions as a rationale for CT development in the U.S. On a personal note, I was in Berlin last winter and visited several thermochemical and biochemical systems in neighboring Brandenburg and Saxony. I met with German officials from the State of Brandenburg and the German Green Party to discuss attitudes towards conversion technologies with respect to global warming, compatibility with recycling and their ability to meet Germany's tough air and other emissions standards. In Germany, and indeed throughout the European Union, global warming is taken much more seriously than in the U.S. Since landfills are a large source of greenhouse gas emissions, the German officials I talked to expressed the position that any system that removes more material from landfill such as recycling, composting and CTs is greatly preferable to continued reliance on landfill.

However, even with these positive findings, many environmental and recycling organizations remain opposed to conversion technology and some are fighting tooth and nail to defeat any proposed facilities. Why is this so? Why would organizations identified with protecting the environment fall on the sword, so to speak, to prevent their use given the comprehensive environmental benefits that the independent studies suggest will ensue from the use of CTs? Answers to these questions from an objective standpoint remain perplexing.

Conditions have changed markedly in California since the state enacted AB 939. Unlike 15 years ago, there are thousands of collection programs for recyclables; hundreds of processing facilities now exist, and they are considered by the state and most local governments to be sacrosanct. At the same time, the state population has grown by nearly more than seven million people and there has been no reduction in per capital waste generation. Disposal remains at nearly 40 million tons, and there is little prospect that recycling programs will grow to significantly impact this figure over the next decade. Meanwhile California faces acute energy shortages in the form of electricity, and it has virtually no in-state sources of ethanol to meet its liquid fuel requirements. Landfills remain one of the largest sources of greenhouse emissions in a state that has an expressed public policy to reduce greenhouse emissions. CTs offer among the few viable means of responding to these critical environmental needs.

In spite of the impartial studies by the state's most esteemed research university, in spite of actual emission test results using post-MRF municipal solid waste (MSW) from California, in spite of the evidence that CTs can contribute significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gases and improve air quality by reducing the transportation of solid waste throughout the state, opposition to CTs by the state's environmental and recycling organizations remains intractable.

At the time of this writing, legislation is being considered that would make conditions for the development of conversion technologies feasible. Negotiations are in progress to try to move this legislation to move forward. Whether these negotiations will prove successful or not, remains to be seen. The outcome will have important implications for the State of California. And to the degree that California is a trend setting state, to the rest of the nation.



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