Out of the Garbage Can and Into the Fire

- by Mike Ewall

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"393","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"260","style":"width: 267px; height: 260px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"267"}}]]So-called “waste-to-energy” (WTE) is usually a euphemism for trash incineration, disposing of waste while making modest amounts of electricity and sometimes steam for heating purposes. Now, waste-to-fuels (WTF?) — turning waste into liquid fuels for transportation — is starting to emerge as a subset of WTE.

Noting their acronym problem, the industry has redubbed itself from “W2F” to “waste conversion.” These waste conversion facilities would turn such things as trash, sewage sludge, tires, plastics, organic wastes, or agricultural wastes into liquid fuels such as ethanol, diesel fuel or other fuels and chemicals.

Fifteen years ago, several companies tried to get into the trash-to-ethanol business, but couldn’t get off the ground. One company president told us that everyone wanted to be the first to invest in the second facility. It didn’t help that the leading company in the field, Pencor-Masada Oxynol, got as far as getting permits for a facility in Middletown, NY to turn trash and sewage sludge into ethanol, then financially collapsed.

In the past few years a resurgence of proposals, spurred by government incentives, is starting to gain ground. The industry is holding annual “waste conversion” conferences, and the chemical industry trade association giant, the American Chemistry Council, is pushing any sort of “plastics-to-energy” technologies that it can, even daring to call it “renewable.”

The Municipal Solid Waste to Biofuels and Bio-Products Summit held on October 6-7, 2014 and February 20-21, 2013 in Orlando, Florida, is touted by its host, Advanced Biofuels USA, as a place to “receive leading waste and biofuels market intelligence and analysis from the very best in the business.”

The annual conference is an informational and networking smorgasbord geared towards helping industry players “penetrate the high energy value of the municipal solid waste stream.” The conference is attended by biofuels and chemicals producers, developers, and stakeholders, investors and financial institutions, government agencies, and multinational consumer product companies.

If you ever wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes in the emerging waste-to-fuels industry, your wish has been granted.