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With Landfill Closure on the Horizon, ACUA Explores Waste Conversion Technology

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TOWNSHIP OF EGG HARBOR — With the Atlantic County Utilities Authority landfill set to close in the next few years, officials are looking for a new way to manage waste, particularly through emerging “waste conversion” technologies.

Among the new technologies available are processes capable of converting waste into energy either by the combination of electricity and high temperatures in plasma gasification, or by mechanical/biological treatment which sorts waste, eliminates recyclable materials and then converts what remains, either through composting or an anaerobic digestion process that leaves behind a waste-derived fuel. In the process, the waste that remains can be as little as a tenth of what now ends up in a landfill.

All of these new forms of turning waste into energy go beyond current methods, said Matt DeNafo, ACUA’s vice president for centralized maintenance and asset management.

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“You hear the waste of energy and you think of incineration. That’s not really what waste conversion is today,” DeNafo said last week.

However, there are challenges to overcome first, such as obtaining permits and, more importantly, reducing the costs of new technology.

“We can get the air permit, we can build the technology, the technology can work, but if it’s not profitable and we find a cheaper way to dispose of our waste, it doesn’t make sense to us. to do it,” DeNafo told the ACUA board on September 15.

Even when these economic, environmental, legal and technical issues are resolved and demonstration projects are successful, they can be difficult to scale up from demonstration level to full-scale operations.

“We’ve seen a lot of these technologies go from a demo project and then go from something really, really big, really, really fast and it’s just not successful,” DeNafo added.

Either way, the utility authority needs to find a new way to handle waste collection. Its Egg Harbor Township landfill is expected to reach capacity and close in 2027.

New technologies

Some of the new technologies can reduce the mass that needs to be placed in a landfill by 80% to 90%, ACUA officials said. They also avoid some of the emissions of greenhouse gases or other harmful by-products resulting from landfills, such as methane.

The ACUA is no stranger to waste conversion attempts in the county. It started collaborating with NRG Energy in 2008 and awarded NRG a contract to develop a waste recovery project. DeNafo said it has received or is prepared to receive all permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection, except for aerial permits. New NRG management, DeNafo said, ultimately spoke out against the project and dashed prospects for introducing new waste-conversion technology to the county.

Despite the challenges facing the industry, DeNafo said he was inspired by the progress of different projects that were on display at the waste conversion technology conference and trade show he attended earlier. This year. He noted that representatives from several major entities were present, including some from Google and the US Department of Defense. There were presentations for various companies across the country, including those in California, Nevada, New York and Oregon. While these companies face some of the challenges he outlined, he said they have demonstrated how waste conversion projects can be viable and successful in Atlantic County.

One company, for example, produced syngas as an output that could be refined into jet fuel – a process that DeNafo says could be useful for ACUA due to its facility’s proximity to the international airport. of Atlantic City. The Atlantic County Economic Alliance has worked to make the aerospace industry a crucial part of the region’s future development.

ACUA President Rick Dovey said there are already projects underway that could benefit from a future shift to waste conversion. He said the ACUA reached an agreement with South Jersey Industries in June to convert emissions from its landfill into renewable natural gas. The project will involve a $30 million facility that will be developed by South Jersey Industries and will divert emissions that had been used in a less profitable business to directly generate electricity. The Cut Inflation Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in August, helps secure federal subsidies for renewable natural gas, further solidifies agreement on the current power generation deal. Dovey said the project could be operational by 2024 and would benefit municipalities, ratepayers and ultimately future waste conversion projects.

As the pivot to new waste conversion technology continues, officials are looking to find a way forward for its immediate future.

The ACUA issued an RFP for solid waste transportation and disposal in the county, which resulted in a bid, although it’s possible the authority could reject the bid and issue another bid. of proposal – something that could lead to lower contract prices now, given that oil and gas prices have fallen significantly over the past few months. ACUA had considered working with the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority and the Cumberland County Improvement Authority, although Dovey said those authorities are no longer politically comfortable moving forward with the deal, saying due to escalating controversy over the future of waste management in the county. .

Rail transfer station

The offer and exploration of waste conversion comes as debate continues over a proposed rail transfer station for construction and demolition debris. The transfer station, planned for land off West Washington Avenue in Pleasantville, has generated significant controversy. Supporters of the station, including its developer, James DiNatale, argued that it would help the county prepare for the impending closure of the ACUA landfill, by taking waste from the county and shipping it to a landfill in the Ohio. They argued that it would be cheaper than the ACUA alternatives, although ACUA officials disputed its figures and noted that the bidding process had not yet been completed.

For her part, DiNatale criticizes the ACUA’s pursuit of a new method of converting trash as a “pie-in-the-sky” idea similar to the flying cars on the TV show “The Jetsons.” He cited exorbitant costs and the lack of a successful track record.

“There’s nothing proven,” DiNatale said. “I don’t know how they are doing.”

ACUA is moving forward with the development of waste-to-energy technology for the region. Once he decides on a method, he plans to issue a request for proposals and solicit bids for a project by next January and award a contract in April. A project would then be launched within a few years.

“Sooner or later these technologies will be approved and the economy will be there,” Dovey said Thursday, citing Los Angeles-area companies exploring the concept. “They know this is ultimately the answer.”

Contact Chris Doyle