The Bioenergy Producers Association was founded in 2004 to advance the development and commercialization of sustainable, environmentally preferable industries that produce alternative energy from agricultural, forestry and urban sources of biomass and plastic wastes.
Over the past 17 years, California’s legislative and administrative policies have discouraged the use of non-combustion thermal technologies, i.e. pyrolysis and gasification, to produce low carbon fuels, chemicals, renewable natural gas and other biobased products from municipal solid waste (MSW) feedstocks.
During this time, the Association has led four unsuccessful legislative campaigns to correct a scientifically inaccurate definition of gasification in statute and to address other statutory and regulatory provisions that have driven investors and providers of advanced recovery technologies from doing business in California. All of these legislative proposals would have preserved the integrity of existing recycling programs while expanding the integrated waste management toolbox to include clean technologies capable of converting landfill-bound materials to beneficial use.
As a result, California’s recycling rate has declined from 50% to 42% during the past decade. Jim Stewart, the Association’s Chairman, addressed this subject in a March 2020 article for Biofuels Digest entitled “A Decade of Progress in California? Not for its Recycling Rate.”
And Click Here to read his January 2020 white paper describing in detail the issues preventing the production of solid waste-derived biofuels and other biobased products in the state.
In 2019, California landfilled or exported for landfill an estimated 42 million tons of post-recycled municipal solid waste. Theoretically, this volume of waste contained enough energy value to produce more than 1.6 billion gallons of low carbon fuel.
According to a 2019 Jet Propulsion Laboratory survey of 272,000 facilities and components, less than 0.2% of California’s infrastructure elements are responsible for 34–46% of its total methane emissions. It found that waste management is the largest methane point source emission sector in the state (41% of the JPL study total), driven by the emissions from only 11% of the state’s 270 active or closed landfills. The study also showed that composting facilities can be a significant source of methane.
Scott Smithline, the former Director of CalRecycle, once said, “The state’s economic resurgence is impressive, but we have to find ways around the barriers to consistent, sustainable reductions in disposal.” Conversion technologies could and should be a key element in this effort, if only our state’s administration and its legislators would move to create a reasonable legislative and regulatory environment for these technologies.
There are major initiatives evolving in Sacramento, perhaps a perfect storm of initiatives, which lead this Association to believe that the time is approaching for our governor and legislature to recognize the potential of these 21st century conversion technologies and take action.
- AB 341 mandated the 75% recycling of organics by 2020, a goal it has already missed, and 100% by 2025, a goal it will never reach unless it expands its toolbox for productive waste disposal.
- Further, SB 1383, passed in 2016, requires a 50% reduction in organic waste disposal from 2014 levels by 2020 and a 75% reduction by 2025. In addition, SB 1383 requires that not less than 20% of the edible food currently disposed be recovered for human consumption by 2025.
- Continuing, SB 32 requires that statewide greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 40% below the 1990 level by 2030.
- SB 350 has mandated that 50% of the state’s power be renewable by 2030. For Southern California Gas alone, that would require 50 billion cubic feet of renewable natural gas per year. Southern California Gas has estimated the types and number of facilities that the utility will require to meet that goal. It includes 14 gasification facilities capable of producing 42,000 SCFM of RNG (biomethane) from municipal solid waste.
- California now has a Low Carbon Fuel Standard in place, with no technologies available that can produce qualifying gasoline. Solid waste conversion technologies exist that can produce drop-in gasoline with a carbon intensity that meets this standard.
- And State policy is focused on reducing California’s consumption of petroleum transportation fuels by 50% by 2030.
To achieve the state’s 50% diversion of organics from landfills during the current year would would require the state to reduce by 10 million tons the amount of post-recycled MSW being placed in landfills this year, already an impossibility, and to reach 75% diversion will require a 27 million-ton reduction, a goal that will be never be attained without the implementation of new technologies and new approaches to the management of solid wastes.
And this, when green waste no longer qualifies as diversion when used as daily cover in landfills.
It will also require regulatory changes that allow renewable natural gas to be injected in California’s pipelines. Waste-derived renewable natural gas is now being injected into pipelines elsewhere in the country and sold into California for the production of power, but current regulations make it economically and operationally difficult to produce RNG and inject it into a pipeline within the state.
California law (PRC 40180) defines recycling, as “the process of collecting, sorting, cleansing, treating, and reconstituting of materials that would otherwise become solid waste, and returning them to the economic mainstream in the form of raw material for new, reused, or reconstituted products, which meet the quality standards necessary to be used in the marketplace.”
In the administration’s implementation of AB 341 and other waste-related initiatives, current regulatory practice rarely adheres to this definition, overlooking technologies capable or returning recyclable materials “to the economic mainstream in the form of raw materials”, i.e., embracing the recycling of carbon on the molecular level, not simply recycling finished products. In many states across the country, the production of renewable energy is accepted as a primary step in recycling, not the last step.
The BioEnergy Producers Association believes the issues to be addressed under AB 341 should be much more far-reaching.
The industry has embarked on a paradigm shift. It has been estimated that energy recovery will ultimately generate 70% of the revenue attributable to next-generation waste management technologies in North America.
We maintain that by the end of this decade, the production of renewable energy from organic wastes will be widely accepted as a primary step in recycling, not the last step.
One day, the recycling of MSW’s carbon content at its molecular level will be seen as an asset, a strategic resource in a circular economy.