Even with the new commercial organics ban, the tortoise is winning over the hare as AD facilities slowly roll out in Massachusetts. Part 2
BioCycle December 2014
Processing facilities for commercial organics (above) fall into several distinct categories: Farm-based AD, farm-based composting, Commercial composting, WWTP AD, on-site AD and stand-alone AD. Photo courtesy of MassNaturalProcessing facilities for commercial organics (above) fall into several distinct categories: Farm-based AD, farm-based composting, Commercial composting, WWTP AD, on-site AD and stand-alone AD. Photo courtesy of MassNatural[/caption]With the much anticipated commercial organics disposal ban now in effect in Massachusetts, there has been a relatively large number of sites permitted to process food residuals, helping to make diversion economically viable for generators. As noted in Part I of this article series (“Assessing Organics Processing Capacity In Massachusetts”, the recent infrastructure development is more oriented to composting, with anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities developing at a slower pace.
From purely a cost perspective, the hauling distance from point of generation to where the material gets tipped plays an integral role in the pricing equation. Despite the fact that food waste can be used to create energy, the concept that it possesses enough of a commodity value that would serve to offset the cost of hauling (as is the case with cardboard and other paper products) does not reflect the current realities of the market. Other than for animal feed uses, tipping fees are one of the primary revenue sources for organics processing operations. As a result, the substantial gains in the number of processing sites can be attributed to the incremental revenues generated from tipping fees for composters and farms rather than the realization of revenues from selling the energy/electrons generated by anaerobic digestion (AD) or the finished compost products.
Organics processing facilities (not including animal feed operations) in Massachusetts fall into several distinct categories: Farm-based AD, farm-based composting, commercial composting, wastewater treatment plant AD, on-site AD and stand-alone AD. As detailed in Part I, currently the majority of the state’s organics processing capacity is farm based with many, if not most, of those locations processing well below their permitted volumes. Of the 25 permitted agricultural food waste processing locations, 22 are permitted to accept 15 tons/day (tpd) with many of those sites taking in well below that level. Of the three farms with anaerobic digesters that are permitted at 100 tpd of commercial organics, Jordan Farm is taking 50 tpd, Barstow’s Longview Farm is at 30 tpd, and Pine Island Farm receives very little.
Similarly, there are several examples in the commercial sector of permitted capacity being well above what is actually being processed, e.g., the Fitchburg-Westminster Compost site, colocated with an active landfill, is permitted for 70 tpd although its throughput is closer to 70 tons/month. These numbers point to the conclusion that there is, in fact, underutilized organics processing capacity in Massachusetts, at least versus permitted volumes. This disconnect between permitted volumes and actual volumes being processed is a result of smaller, farm based composters coming on stream along with several new, albeit relatively small, commercial sites also emerging. These smaller facilities will be the focus of Part III of this series.
Where Are Large-Scale Digesters?
Despite the state’s efforts, development of large scale, stand-alone merchant AD in Massachusetts has been slow to nonexistent. Other than the two farm-based digesters categorized as stand-alone merchant plants — developed by Casella and AGreen/BGreen (see “Building Farm And Food Scrap Digesters, June 2014) — the only other AD project that has received a RCC (Recycling, Composting and Conversion) permit is an AD facility located on-site at a Stop & Shop Distribution Center in Freetown, Massachusetts. Stop & Shop contracted with Feed Resource Recovery (FRR) to build the roughly 100 tpd facility, which is similar to the 150 tpd plant FRR built for Kroger Co. in Compton, California.
The concept behind the Stop & Shop facility is to leverage the economics of backhauling where the same vehicles and trailers that deliver merchandise pick up the organic waste and deliver it back to the distribution center. The center services approximately 200 Stop & Shop stores in the region and the digester will only accept internal material, which tends to be very contaminated (e.g., produce packaged on Styrofoam trays and shrink wrapped). As such, the digester facility includes a robust depackaging step. With the facility expected to be operational in about a year, significant volumes (approximately 100 tons/day) of organics currently being processed by composters or being used as animal feed will be diverted to Freetown to generate 1.1 megawatts of power or 40 percent of the distribution center’s electricity requirements.
The first operational, stand-alone (i.e., not on-site), nonfarm based digester in Massachusetts is owned by CRMC Bioenergy, LLC, a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Resource Management Corporation (CRMC). An official ribbon cutting for the digester took place on October 7, 2014. The project is colocated at the operational Crapo Hill landfill in Dartmouth/New Bedford, and is starting out as a 3,000 gallons/day pilot. The full-scale capacity is 30,000 gallons/day. The continuous flow, mesophilic wet digester (proprietary design) will accept food waste, fats, oils and grease (FOG) and wastewater treatment biosolids in a roughly 50:25:25 ratio.
Currently, CRMC Bioenergy doesn’t have any long-term feedstock contracts but has found no shortage of desirable material being offered by liquid waste haulers and waste generators. This project is an example of a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship between the Greater New Bedford Regional Refuse Management District, a public entity, and CRMC, a private company, both of which secured separate grants from the state to make this project a reality. The project received early and enthusiastic buy-in from both the City of New Bedford and the neighboring Town of Dartmouth, which are member communities of the Refuse District. The digester gas adds to an existing landfill gas-to-energy plant that another CRMC subsidiary owns and operates, and which benefits the Refuse District member communities via a revenue sharing agreement. At full scale, the company expects to add another 25 percent of generating capacity to the current 3.3 MW to reach a total of 4.1 MW.
The other large project that has recently shown forward momentum is a Harvest Power project in Bourne, which is located just over the Cape Cod Canal from the mainland. The Town of Bourne issued a Request for Proposals three years ago for a project on its landfill, which is closing for MSW disposal imminently. Harvest won the RFP but lease negotiations took much longer than anticipated. The final lease was signed in September. Harvest is modeling its Massachusetts facility on its Orlando, Florida plant (see “Codigestion In Central Florida,” March/April 2014). Expected capacity of the Bourne digester is 50,000 to 75,000 tons/year of biosolids codigested with 10,000 to 30,000 tons/year of food waste. The facility is expected to cost $30 to $35 million and generate around 5 MW of electricity. Bourne is currently siphoning landfill gas from the landfill site, which will be added to the biogas generated from the digester. Harvest is looking to attain permits by early 2016 and finish construction in 2017.
Potential Public-Private Partnerships
One of the key components of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MADEP) original Organics Action Plan in 2012 was to utilize state-owned land as lower cost locations for stand-alone AD facilities. The MADEP’s primary partner was the Division of Capital Asset Management & Maintenance (DCAMM), the state agency responsible for facilities management, public building construction and real estate services (including sale and lease) for state-owned properties.
As a result of this collaboration, three sites were selected for feasibility studies: two Department of Corrections facilities (MCI Norfolk and MCI Shirley) and Amherst Wastewater Treatment Plant (located on the University of Massachusetts-Amherst campus). The studies were designed with the explicit goal to site one to three stand-alone digesters on state land by December 2014. Possible components included 1 to 3 MW of electrical generation, 20,000 to 50,000 tons/year of organic material processing, and a public-private partnership utilizing a long term license or lease agreement. After completion in mid-2013, a Request for Interest was issued in the fall of 2013 to a select group of AD developers to gauge interest and comments. The formal RFP solicitations have not yet been issued as DCAMM needs legislative authority to do so.
Path Of Least Resistance: WWTP
A significant part of the regulatory package that the MADEP promulgated two years ago was allowing wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to accept and process source separated organics (SSO), thereby encouraging existing facilities to add AD and treat organic waste directly. Of the 133 WWTPs in the state, though, only six have active anaerobic digesters (8 with inactive digesters) and only three of those are using the biogas to create electricity (Table 1). Conceptually, the cost to an existing treatment facility to add SSO should be less than building from the ground although there are other considerations that have presented obstacles to the plants.
The largest potential organics processing facility in Massachusetts is the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s (MWRA) Deer Island plant in Boston Harbor, the second largest WWTP in the U.S. In response to the organics ban, the MWRA conducted a feasibility study that showed the positive impact of adding SSO on biogas production. These findings led to the MWRA issuing an RFP for a provider of preprocessed, slurried food waste for a three year pilot program.
That contract was awarded to Waste Management, Inc. at the end of 2013 but was put on hold in March 2014 when there was public outcry from the residents of the town of Winthrop, which provides the only land-based access to the Deer Island plant. Incremental truck traffic proved to be a nonstarter for the community and resulted in a highly public handshake between the Executive Director of the MWRA, Fred Lasky, and the Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, to stop the project until further notice. The MWRA and Waste Management were then compelled to change their transportation method to barging the slurried food waste and the incremental cost appears to be challenging the financial model. It remains uncertain whether this project will proceed (pilot is for 150 tpd which would ramp to 500 tpd at scale), leaving the possible creation of a very large amount of processing capacity in the Boston metro area as an unanswered question. This uncertainty has manifested in the overall market as a potential deterrent to other developers of organics processing capacity.
The Greater Lawrence Sanitary District (GLSD) in North Andover, the second largest WWTP in the state, services five communities in northeastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire (Lawrence, Methuen, Andover, North Andover and Salem, NH). The GLSD is the single largest recipient of state grant money for development of organics processing infrastructure, receiving close to $1.5 million to begin upgrading the facility to generate electricity (currently just heat is produced) and accept SSO. It has been working on adding a combined heat and power unit to its facility and perhaps another digester.
The most recent electoral cycle in Massachusetts resulted in a new governor, Republican Charlie Baker, who has chosen State Representative Matthew Beaton to serve as the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), the parent agency to both the MADEP and the state Department of Agricultural Resources. Beaton has stated that EEA will prioritize market-based solutions. It unknown whether Beaton will keep the current Commissioners of the MADEP and the DAR in place and it is not known as to what his perspectives are on anaerobic digestion or composting.
Zoë Neale is founder of Mass Organics Solutions, an independent consulting firm specializing in helping companies navigate the organics market in the Northeast. She is a Contributing Editor to BioCycle.