W2E is a waste-to-energy facility that will convert organic waste via anaerobic digestion into several end products, including electricity, heat and a nutrient-rich soil amendment that will be used by local agriculture.
When it comes to reduce, reuse, recycle, Columbia is definitely in the mix. Daniel Rickenmann, CEO of Columbia’s newest effort to move toward a greener environment, is excited about what the future holds.
Daniel, who is also a member of Columbia City Council, is the CEO of W2E, a waste-to-energy facility that will convert organic waste via anaerobic digestion into several end products, including electricity, heat and a nutrient-rich soil amendment that will be used by local agriculture.
Anaerobic digestion is a process by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. “It is the most environmentally friendly solution and is the most flexible with the waste streams it can accept,” says Daniel.
There are currently 152 anaerobic systems in the U.S., according to Daniel, but the systems are much more common in Europe, which has more than 6,000 facilities. “A friend of my family has a system like this in Switzerland,” he says. “I saw it when I was overseas and toured the facility. This type of landfill diversion is true recycling.”
The $12 million W2E facility will accept waste streams of food, grease, produce, yard debris and other types of organic material. “Seventy percent of the materials will be pre- and post-consumer food waste. Twenty-five percent will be grease trap waste and the remaining five percent will be yard waste,” says Daniel.
Trucks will unload the materials into appropriate separators. The waste will then be shredded and combined, then fed into the digester. The digester will heat up, essentially cooking and agitating the waste stream to produce methane gas, which will be harvested to create electricity. The digestate co-product, made up primarily of water and nutrients, will be sold for agricultural and landscape use.
The facility will keep approximately 26,500 tons of waste out of area landfills, according to Daniel. “The average person throws away 200 pounds of garbage annually. This is a way of creating a renewable resource and reducing the carbon footprint. And down the road it could potentially produce pipeline quality natural gas. Where it now takes 20 years to develop landfill gas, we will be able to produce it in 28 days.”
W2E will bring benefits, both economic and environmental. If a typical landfill doesn’t have a gas recovery system in place, the gas escapes into the atmosphere as greenhouse gas. The anaerobic system at W2E processes waste before it goes into the landfill and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, as well as dependence on fossil fuel and foreign oil.
“The ideal opportunity would be to turn our landfills into energy parks,” says Daniel. “If we could develop the ability to convert the waste streams going into our landfills through these anaerobic facilities, we not only would extend the life of the landfills but also have a tremendous impact on the development of renewable energy sources.”
Initially, Daniel says the facility will produce 1.6 megawatts of electricity. “That is enough electricity to provide power to 1,300 homes,” he says. Eventually he hopes to double that output to 3.2 megawatts.
There’s another plus to the process. “When people think of a facility handling organic waste, the smell is the first thing that comes to mind, like a landfill smell. Because this is a totally enclosed system, there is no odor,” says Daniel.
Another benefit is the size of the facility. Where landfills can occupy hundreds of acres, the W2E facility will cover a scant four acres. W2E already has commitments from several local businesses to provide waste materials, including Walmart, Quest Recycling, Dorado, BlueCross Blue Shield, Pascon, Palmetto Health, Harvest Hope Food Bank, Pontiac Foods, McEntire Produce, the State Farmers Market and WP Rawls. Purchasers also are being lined up for the end products of electricity, green natural gas and potentially compressed natural gas to be used for transportation purposes in the future. Santee Cooper has committed to purchasing the electrical power generated from the facility in a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement.
W2E’s plant site located at the corner of Shop and Beltline received a solid waste permit from the South Carolina Department of Environmental Control in January, and Daniel is now awaiting construction permits. “We plan to begin accepting waste after the first of 2012.” But even though the first site isn’t completed, Daniel already is making plans for expansion throughout the Southeast. W2E has partnered with Eisenmann, a German company that specializes in developing and manufacturing biogas facilities that use organic materials for heat and power generation. “We are currently in the permitting process in three other states, and we hope to expand to Baton Rouge, La., Gastonia, N.C., and eventually into Tennessee and Georgia,” he says.
W2E also will provide an educational opportunity for local schools. “We’re going to add greenhouses to the facility for demonstration purposes,” notes Daniel, “and we also plan to provide tours for the schools. Kids are learning to recycle, reduce and reuse and this will provide an opportunity for them to see that in action.”
“We can take what we are now burying in our landfills and convert it into a commodity. For every material produced as a result of this process, there’s a market for it. An apple core goes into the system and an apple tree will result in the end,” says Daniel, with a smile.