From trash to treasure

Beaumont municipal landfill

The trite expression that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure is being realized in the city of Beaumont.

Beaumont City Council approved a resolution Tuesday, Dec. 18, that unanimously authorized a 20-year agreement with Fair Energy Operations to purchase municipal solid waste from the city. The company plans to purchase property next to the landfill and construct facilities to sort and process any recyclable materials and use patented technologies to convert the remaining solid waste to commercial-grade liquid diesel, the City Council agenda for Dec. 18 states.

 Under the terms of the agreement, the city will supply on average 1,400 tons per week of municipal solid waste to the company. Fair Energy Operations estimates that it will create at least 50 jobs for the community.

The operation will take place in Ward 4, where the landfill is located.

“It’s going to be a benefit for the whole area,” said Jamie Smith, Ward 4 Councilmember.

Former Congressman Nick Lampson has been encouraging the city to consider the proposal and even spoke at a Dec. 13, 2011, workshop to advocate the agreement. Lampson was present Tuesday, when the City Council passed the resolution.

“It’s a recycling project, an energy project; it’s new technology and certainly green,” Lampson said. “It will bring resources and jobs directly to the city. It will extend the life of the landfill and will provide clean processing of garbage, which accomplishes the recycling interests that the council has.”

Dr. Hani J. Tohme, water utilities director for the city of Beaumont, said that the project would extend the life of the landfill by 5.6 years, but that the city also has other landfills that can be utilized with enough waste to fuel the program for 70 years. He also said that the city of Beaumont is taking zero risk with the agreement.

“We have zero investment,” he said. “We are not getting involved in any funding. All we are doing is providing the solid waste to the facility once it is constructed and ready for operation. If somehow this technology turns out that it is not a usable technology, there is zero negative impact on the city of Beaumont.”

Lampson said the process, called gasification, would make Beaumont a pioneer in waste recycling.

“This is going to be the first (municipality) in the United States that is going to have this technology implemented,” he said. “It is not a new process because gasification is old technology. What is new for this facility is the ability to miniaturize the process. Typically these processes would cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and this will be much more affordable.”

How much more affordable? Kyle Fair, chairman of Fair Energy Operations, said what would typically cost hundreds of millions of dollars will only cost his company $25 million to build and will cost Beaumont taxpayers nothing.

“A gasification plant typically costs a couple of $100 million and up, but what makes (Fair Energy Operations) unique is that they have the technology to be able to miniaturize something that has been done on a huge scale and is very expensive,” Lampson said. “A city couldn’t afford to do that, and no one could afford to help a city do that until now.”

In fact, the city of Beaumont will actually be paid for citizens’ waste in the form of a biannual payment of $200,000 for the first three years, which is set to increase by 3 percent yearly starting on the fourth anniversary of the first payment and will continue through the life of the agreement, Tohme said.

“There are a lot of savings to the city of Beaumont,” Tohme said. “We are going to receive revenue, but there are a lot of other additional benefits. Beaumont has been attempting to do a recycling program and hasn’t been very successful so far. This project will recycle all the pickup from residential areas. All the trucks that are picking up from the city of Beaumont are going to go to (Fair Energy Operations’ new site near the landfill). (Recycling containers) will not be necessary.”

The funds could be used for various expenses, according to Tohme, including a litter pickup plan.

“Some of the money we are going to make on this project is going to create a new division to do daily litter pickup in the city of Beaumont,” he said. “Every street will be picked at least once a month.”

Fair said that another factor that makes the agreement so cost-effective for the is the lack of a tipping fee, a price charged to deliver municipal solid waste to a landfill, waste-to-energy facility, or recycling facility.

“On the Eastern Seaboard, tipping fees are $50 a ton, not including transportation, he said. “Some of those municipalities like New York and Boston spend tens of millions of dollars a year in budget on getting rid of their waste.”

The process will be environmentally friendly as well, Tohme said.

“The operation is regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency,” he said. “They have to get permits which limit their emissions. There will be no emissions that are allowed by the state and federal governments.”

Fair said there are no environmental risks with the process.

“TCEQ rates us at zero air emissions,” he said. “All of the bad CO2 and all the other bad stuff coming out of the landfill will be reduced by the amount of trash (Fair Energy) is taking in.”

According to Fair, the conversion of waste to fuel is a four-step process including pre-treatment, gasification, gas conditioning and, finally, liquid-fuel. First the waste is sorted, crushed and dehydrated. Feedstock, raw material (input) fed into a process for conversion into something different (output), is then processed under highly controlled conditions using proprietary technology. Syngas, a gas mixture that contains varying amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, is then purified and improved and enriched. Finally, the enriched syngas is converted into market-grade, ready-to-use liquid fuels, such as diesel.

“I predict this (operation) will be an absolute phenomenon to the industry,” Fair said.