You’ve heard for months now that Fiberight’s new way of dealing with the region’s municipal solid waste at its proposed facility in Hampden is to use an upgraded European mechanical-biological technology, or MBT, that produces marketable recyclables, creates biogas, emits fewer pollutants and is cheaper than Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, or PERC. Sign me up, right?
But the truth is, as an engineer, facts are stubborn things and if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. So, let’s examine several of those claims.
Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul’s February BDN OpEd references a document on MBT plants that states, “RDF [refuse-derived fuel] is the key to MBT.” The fact is, PERC is already an RDF facility and producing energy. Why build Fiberight?
The document notes that the second part of the MBT process is biogas production via anaerobic digestion, or AD, but we already have an AD facility in Exeter Agri-Energy in Exeter that makes biogas and has significant additional capacity.
There are no facilities anywhere in the world that employ the Fiberight enzymatic hydrolysis technology at a level above a small, demo plant size. Are we to believe that it is in Maine’s best interest to be the first to use an unproven technology that has not been independently reviewed? The Municipal Review Committee often cites a University of Maine Forest Bioproducts Research Institute, or FBRI, evaluation of the technology as an independent review and as proof it will work. But a team of chemical engineering, enzymatic hydrolysis and pulp and paper experts, working on behalf of Orrington selectmen reviewed the evaluation and shot it full of holes. FBRI even suggested further independent review.
Why should Maine be the world’s solid waste policymaking guinea pig?
Fiberight claims it would burn “post-hydrolysis solids” and would do so while emitting less pollution than PERC. Let’s look a bit closer. PERC has acid-gas controls and a baghouse to capture particulate matter. Fiberight would have controls for nitrogen oxides and a baghouse but no acid-gas controls. Why no acid-gas controls? Good question.
The emissions data summarized in Fiberight’s air emission license application with the Maine DEP looked great, but problematic pollutants were ignored entirely, even though information was available in the application to calculate them! Plus, Fiberight is claiming its post-hydrolysis solids are equivalent to clean wood, but the information submitted clearly says otherwise. Now, Fiberight wants to retest the post-hydrolysis. I can only speculate they will continue to re-test until they get the numbers they want to see.
Using the information provided in Fiberight’s application, I calculated that one acid gas, hydrogen chloride, had a potential emission of 118 tons per year. The limit for installing acid gas controls is 10 tons. What about sulfur dioxide? Using the correct emission factor, Fiberight would emit 57.6 tons. Carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides? The carbon monoxide calculated to 244.5 tons per year and nitrogen oxides at 94.2 tons. Fiberight would have significantly higher emissions than PERC in every instance except for nitrogen oxides.
But perhaps the biggest problem of all is mercury. According to my calculations, mercury emissions at Fiberight would be 33.9 pounds per year — more than the 25 pounds per year allowed under Maine law. In contrast, the Maine DEP reports that PERC emitted 1.38 pounds in all of 2014.
To summarize, Fiberight would emit far more pollutants in its current configuration than PERC. The initial application is misleading — maybe that’s why they have requested a do-over — and several important regulatory thresholds were tripped that change the type of license needed and would require costly upgrades.
Finally, let’s look at one more issue: water. PERC was just awarded EPA’s 2016 Environmental Merit Award, principally for achieving wastewater zero-discharge — a considerable accomplishment for any power plant. In contrast, Fiberight proposes to discharge more than 50 million gallons per year into Bangor’s wastewater treatment plant, which has already been a party to two consent agreements for illegal discharges of untreated water to the Penobscot River.
Sorry for the inconvenient truths, Fiberight, but these are significant environmental hurdles, and people need to know about them to make a fully informed decision about the future of waste disposal in our region. In short, Fiberight is just wrong for Maine.
Keith Bowden of Orrington has worked more than 20 years in the pulp and paper industry and more than 20 years as a consultant in the field of solid waste management, reuse, recycling and waste reduction. He worked at Old Town Fuel and Fiber in the Biorefinery Department from 2010-2014, which included producing industrial sugars via enzymatic hydrolysis. He is a consultant for PERC in Fiberight’s air permit application reviews.