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.
For more than a decade, California’s legislative and administrative policies have discouraged the application of non-combustion thermal technologies, i.e. pyrolysis and gasification, in the production of biofuels, chemicals, renewable natural gas and other biobased products from municipal solid waste (MSW) feedstocks.
During this time, the Association has led four 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 conversion technology providers away 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.
Click Here to read a January 2020 white paper authored by Jim Stewart, the Association’s Chairman, summarizing the issues preventing the production of solid waste-derived biofuels, chemicals and other bioproducts in the state.
Since 2010, California’s traditional recycling rate has declined from 47% to 42% and in 2017, California landfilled or exported for landfill 37.8 million tons. Add to that 6.6 million tons of “disposal-related” materials, and you reach a total of 44.4 million tons disposed. With California’s population at 39.5 million residents, this results in a per resident disposal rate of 6.2 pounds/resident/day.
Theoretically, this volume of waste contains enough energy value to produce more than 1.6 billion gallons of biofuels per year.
Due to the administration’s virtually exclusive focus on recycling, anaerobic digestion and composting, little, if any, progress has been made in reducing our dependence upon landfills.
In announcing these statistics, Scott Smithline of CalRecycle 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 has mandated the 75% recycling of organics by 2020, 100% by 2025. (See this Association’s analysis and comments on the bill at the time of its initial implementation in 2011.)
- 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 75% diversion of organics from landfills by 2020 would require the state to reduce by 10 million tons the amount of waste being landfilled in a single year. This is an impossibility.
And this, when green waste, when used as daily cover in landfills, will no longer qualify as diversion.
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.
Safe 21st century thermal technologies are an essential element of any effort to achieve these goals, to interdict solid waste before it is placed in landfills and to produce fuels, chemicals and other products, and importantly, to produce biomethane for renewable power production. We believe their time has come and that the next session of our legislature may be the time to try again.
It has been estimated that energy recovery will ultimately generate 70% of the revenue attributable to next-generation waste management technologies in North America.
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. 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.
The recycling of MSW’s carbon content at its molecular level will be seen as an asset, a strategic resource in a circular economy.