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Published: Monday, 7/24/2006

Garbage may hold source for natural gas

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With gas prices hovering at the $3-a-gallon mark, garbage - of all things - has become a hot commodity.

Upstart companies are eyeing dumps from Tacoma to Toledo as potential energy sources.

One such company, Green Power Inc., claims to have come up with a nonpolluting method of turning household waste into high-grade diesel. Reporters from across the country have been invited to the state of Washington for a demonstration Wednesday in Tacoma.

Does Toledo have a garbage-to-energy future?

Yes, even if it's just the now-conventional use of landfill methane to generate electricity.

But Rich Dunn, Toledo partner of a fledgling North Carolina group called Bio-Energy Conversion LLC, hopes the city's involvement goes well beyond that. Formed 2 1/2 years ago, Bio-Energy expects to produce cheap natural gas out of coal within six months for Michelin Aircraft Tire Corp.'s production facility in Norwood, N.C.

Bio-Energy's plan for Toledo: building a similar plant here, except garbage from the city's Hoffman Road landfill would be mashed into a pulp and used instead of coal. "There's a tremendous amount of energy that's just lying there being wasted," Mr. Dunn said.

Extracted gas could be sold to a major industry, such as the DaimlerChrysler Jeep plant or the Libbey glass manufacturing plant, officials said.

There's even talk about using the technology to help preserve western Lake Erie.

Dredged material from the Maumee River shipping channel, tons of which have been dumped into the open lake for years, could be made into bricks, said Jerry Jones, president and chief executive officer of Woodlands Consulting Group, a local consult-ing firm representing Bio-Energy.

Great Lakes governors, scientists, and environmentalists, all of whom have criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for putting dredged silt, muck, and clay back into the lake, may be pleased by such a beneficial reuse of dredged material, he said.

Bio-Energy could help the corps comply with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's mandate to phase out open-lake dumping. And it could save the region from spending $50 million to $80 million to build another confined disposal facility for the sediment, Mr. Jones said.

"If we can mine this dredging material and add value within a process, that's a win-win for all of us," said a supportive James Hartung, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority president.

He said Bio-Energy has the potential to stimulate the local economy by creating jobs while helping the region address longstanding environmental issues. "I've been very impressed by them. They're crisp and professional," Mr. Hartung said. "It's a matter of whether or not they can focus and find a marketplace."

Some of the area's top movers and shakers were courted by Bio-Energy almost from the day it was formed. But, with the economy tight, they didn't act. "Everybody wants the second one. They don't want to be lined up for the first one," Mark Shanahan, executive director of the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority, explained.

The initial North Carolina unit will cost $3 million. Bio-Energy Conversion plans to put up half the costs.

The company said it recently broke ground after getting 189 acres rezoned in North Carolina's Stanly County.

Its process, called pyrolysis, is one in which organic material is heated in an oxygen-free chamber to 1,800 degrees or more to produce natural gas.

As the gas is extracted, it is to be cleaned by the main byproduct, granulated activated carbon. The closed-loop system, as well as the absence of oxygen, should prevent combustion. That would minimize pollutants, Mr. Dunn said.

Any emissions produced can be recycled, he said. Two of the three byproducts - activated carbon and grit - would be sold for commercial purposes. Activated carbon is in filters and other products. Grit can be used in concrete.

Bio-Energy still has some regulatory hurdles to cross. It hasn't finalized a deal with Michelin. But Herb Johnson, Michelin spokesman, confirmed the tire manufacturer has a "serious interest."

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) has found Bio-Energy's concept "extremely appealing," her staff director, Steve Katich, said.

Miss Kaptur has promoted alternative energy for years. She is especially intrigued by Bio-Energy's potential for making bricks out of the shipping channel's dredged material, he said.

Bio-Energy had wanted to use the city's Hoffman Road landfill waste to generate electricity for the city's Bay View wastewater treatment plant on Summit Street, Mr. Dunn said.

But the city has opted to generate its own electricity with the landfill's methane, on the belief its plan was more straightforward and less risky.

The city plans to pipe the landfill's methane to the sewage plant, where it will be used to spin turbines that generate electricity.

This fall, about 2.5 miles of pipeline is to be laid. By this time next year, the turbines, the computers, and other equipment are to be operating.

The project is to cost $20 million. Consultants believe there's enough methane to power the sewage plant for 30 to 40 years, Bill Franklin, the city's public service director, said.

Bob Williams, the city's public utilities director, said Bio-Energy "sounded almost too good to be true."

"We wanted to see an application up and running first," he said.

So is there enough garbage for the city and Bio-Energy to share?

Mr. Franklin doubts it. The methane flow to the sewage plant will be prone to intermittent breaks. The city has natural gas for backup, he said.

He said officials weren't sure how much faith to put in the company until it became more established. "Basically, they did not have a track record," Mr. Franklin said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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