August 13, 2005

R.E.N.E.W. L.A. - Jumpstarting Waste Reform in L.A.

Below are some excerpts from the progressive waste reform plan, R.E.N.E.W. L.A., proposed by Councilmember Greig Smith of the Los Angeles City Council (7/14/2005). To read the complete executive summary and plan, go to: "R.E.N.E.W. LA" Plan.


The City has a long way to go to create a new paradigm of sustainability, resource conservation, maximum material recovery, environmental protection, and renewable energy - a system in which the concept of waste itself is transformed to one of resource management.

It’s about Recovering Energy, Natural Resources, and Economic Benefit from Waste for Los Angeles - “RENEW LA”.

The goal of zero waste as defined in this plan is to reduce, reuse, recycle, or convert the resources now going to disposal so as to achieve an overall diversion level of 90% or more by 2025; and to leave for disposal only a small inert residual.

A Zero Waste philosophy includes a broad array of programs and policies within an overall framework of sustainability. Some of these goals, as voiced by the CIWMB (Sacramento-based California Integrated Waste Management Board) include:
• Promoting the management of all materials to their best and highest use
• Protecting public health and the environment
• Maximizing waste reduction and recycling
• Ensuring that products are made to be reused, repaired or recycled back into society
• Promoting front-end design efficiency in manufacturing to conserve virgin materials and reduce waste
• Harnessing the energy potential of waste by using new and clean technology to convert the material directly into “green” fuel, gas, or electricity

Conversion Technologies form a nexus between the solid waste industry and the power industry in that they “convert” portions of our wastestreams into renewable energy - thus simultaneously achieving waste diversion and green energy. In the City of Los Angeles, this creates a connection with the Department of Water and Power (DWP) and its aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) calling for 13% renewable energy by 2010 and 20% by 2017.

This blueprint relies on two key elements:
• the continuation, enhancement and growth of existing diversion programs; and
• the development of new CT facilities to process residual material still going to disposal (all CTs are non-combustion).

This plan makes no recommendations regarding the types of CT to be developed, but does highlight the five basic ones currently being evaluated and developed in Los Angeles and already in use in other cities and countries around the world. The CTs are:
• Gasification and Pyrolysis
• Anaerobic Digestion
• MSW Composting
• Autoclaving
• Fermentation

Not only does renewable energy decrease our demand for foreign and new supplies of domestic oil and other fossil fuels, it reduces greenhouse gases, and creates local jobs at the new facilities that would be constructed to generate this electricity.

The allure of fermentation CT in Los Angeles is that ethanol could be manufactured not from grain, but from the organic material in our wastestreams. This provides even more advantages in terms of greenhouse gas reductions and clean air benefits, plus generating home grown energy and the jobs and economic drivers that go along with it.

In California, ethanol is in huge demand with over 700 million gallons per year currently consumed in the State (and much of that, of course, in Los Angeles) under the MTBE additive replacement program. Currently, virtually all this ethanol is made from corn and comes from out of State. And this is at a very low percentage ethanol blend. If the blend were increased to 10% (E-10) or more (i.e. Brazil uses vehicles that burn an 85% ethanol blend (E-85)), the demand for the product would be almost unimaginable. In addition, hydrogen can be derived from ethanol; therefore, these fermentation plants can ultimately support the Governor’s “Hydrogen Highway” concept.

August 12, 2005

Waste Not... Before and After Product Use

In Wired News there is an interesting article about the advances in policy making and technology to reduce the amount of waste generated during the production processes of some major manufacturers (see "At Clean Plants, It's Waste Not" by Dan Orzech, August 10, 2005).

It's great that manufacturing companies are learning to create less waste in the production process as described in this article, but what about the reuse of the manufactured products after their effective life is over? The fact remains that in spite of heroic efforts by the recycling industry over the past few decades, most waste is still not recycled. In California that number is about 40 million tons of unrecycled waste per year - mostly paper, construction and demolition wastes, plastics, and other organics (CA Integrated Waste Management Board, 2004). Most of this ends up in land fills where the average cost to dump a ton of garbage in the U.S. rose from $8 in 1985 to $34 in 1995 (National Solid Waste Management Association). That's roughly $1.4 Billion in CA alone.

It is estimated that 75%-85% of the mass of this leftover waste could be converted to green power and heating, renewable fuels (ethanol and biodiesel), and green chemicals. These proven conversion technologies (CTs) include gasification, pyrolysis, thermal depolymerization, catalytic cracking, and hydrolysis/fermentation.

What is most needed to spur investment for implementation of CTs is regulatory reform like California's upcoming AB1090 bill. It would simply enable waste to be treated as fuel if it can be converted without violating existing environmental standards for residue and emissions toxicity. Diversion credits would also help communities and corporations invest in CTs.

To this point, it has been the recycling industry in the California that has been most resistant to change of the regulations - in spite of the fact that the CTs would only be used on leftover waste not currently utilized by recyclers. A lobby group headed by well-respected CA Senator David Roberti (Ret.) is collecting letters of support to present to the CA Integrated Waste Management Board in support of AB1090. Those interested should visit for the latest updates on this critical legislation.

August 4, 2005

Overdue for a Paradigm Shift

Our dependence on foreign fossil fuel resources is not going to be reduced any appreciable amount in the near future until a clean, renewable liquid fuel alternative is adopted. Ethanol is the obvious choice because: 1) it is already being used as a gasoline volume extender and a high percentage blend alternative, 2) cars that run on both ethanol and gasoline and any blend inbetween are already being manufactured by the major auto companies, 3) ethanol emissions are generally less harmful than gasoline, and 4) new feedstock for the fermentation process include agricultural, forestry, and urban waste - thus reducing environmental plagues while diversifying the range of siting options.

Not many people realize that Henry Ford built the Model T to run on ethanol - but at that time a strong case was made for refining abundant oil into gasoline because it was cheaper than ethanol to produce. So the oil liquid fuel paradigm took root and begat the gasoline refinery and distribution network - and cars were modified to run only on gasoline.

Sixty years later the world experiences a severe "oil crisis". Part of the world (Brazil) responded by adding ethanol back into play as a competitive alternative to oil - reducing dependence on oil and bringing a supportive infrastructure for distillation, distribution, and flex-fuel vehicle manufacture for blends of ethanol and gasoline. Today, Brazil exports ethanol, is not dependent on oil availability, has cleaner auto emissions, and robust demand for its sugar cane crops. A model for a liquid, non-fossil fuel paradigm shift and its positive cultural impact has been amply demonstrated.

Much as been made of the "peak oil" conundrum that bodes catastrophic consequences over the next few decades. Since 1976 there has not been one new gasoline refinery built in the U.S. - so it would seem that we are destined to experience a collapse of the gasoline paradigm. This will be exascerbated by the emerging demand for fossil fuel by China and India. At the same time, there have been over 85 ethanol plants built in the U.S. - based on the standard sugar fermentation process using corn kernels as feedstock. Equally important, distribution networks, ethanol flex-fuel and biodiesel vehicles, and a pro-ethanol enterprise culture has been developed - primarily in the farm states.

The time has come to spread the ethanol paradigm into urban areas using new technology based on gasification of plentiful sources of unrecycled biomass - urban, sewage, MSW, forestry, and agricultural waste. The technology exists and it is far cleaner, safer, and efficient than sugar fermentation. It will also help reduce the need for landfill sites (by about 80%), reduce field spreading of sewage, co-generate green power, and provide a smooth transition away from fossil fuels.

If anyone is interested in one reading about one good example of exciting bioconversion breakthroughs, visit