Company sees Berkshire opportunity to convert food waste into energy
PITTSFIELD -- The company is registered in New Jersey, and has an office in Saudia Arabia. It uses a technology that was developed in the United Kingdom. And it wants to use that technology to help rectify a situation in Massachusetts that will become an issue later this year.
In short, Enviro-ResourcesTC Inc., which recently opened a local office on Main Street in Dalton, wants to use a cutting-edge technology known as the powerQUBE that converts food waste into a gas that can be turned into energy to assist Massachusetts when the state's ban on commercial food waste goes into effect on Sept. 1. Enviro-ResourcesTC is the sole U.S. distributor of the powerQUBE.
In the Berkshires, Enviro ResourcesTC CEO David Mills, a native of Great Britain who bought a farmhouse in Hinsdale five years ago, has had preliminary discussions with the Hazen Paper Co. of Holyoke about purchasing the Rising Paper Mill in Housatonic, which Hazen re-opened in 2008.
Enviro-ResourcesTC is interested in the mill as a possible site for producing powerQUBE systems in the United States, and as a foundation/ technology park that could be utilized by other companies in the environmental solutions field.
Such a facility could initially create 20 to 30 jobs, according to Anne Stout, the northeast business development director for Enviro-ResourcesTC, who is based in Dalton.
"We would rent space there for assembly," Mills said. "Other companies that are associated with us around the world, about 10 of them in the environmental solutions fields, would come in to use it as a base for their expansion into the U.S.
"We have a lot of companies that we represent that would like to be here but can't afford it."
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, introduced Mills to Hazen Paper Co. President John Hazen, whose company currently uses only half of the Rising Paper Mill. If the transaction were to occur, Hazen Paper would remain at the mill, but rent space from Mills' company, John Hazen said.
Hazen characterized his company's discussions with Mills as "preliminary" and "exploratory."
"At this point, we're talking months into the future," he said when asked when an agreement between the two companies could be reached. "It's very preliminary."
Pignatelli said the new technology that Mills is promoting fits into the state's commitment to promote renewable energy sources like solar and wind.
"Governor Patrick and his administration for the last seven years have been very committed to renewable energy," Pignatelli said. "We can talk about wind and solar and everything else, but this concept I think has really piqued the curiosity of a lot of key folks, including Commissioner (Kenneth) Kimmell of the (Mass) DEP.
"If we can produce it right here in Massachusetts I think it could put us on the map on the national scale of what we're trying to do."
Mills said he met with Kimmell outside of Boston last February to discuss his company's technology, but Kimball doesn't remember the meeting.
"I probably did," speak with Mills, "but I talk to a lot of companies so I'm not exactly sure which one this (was)," Kimmell said. "I'm not trying to dispute that he talked to me, I don't recall it."
But with the commercial food waste ban coming up, Kimmell said the state is very interested in adopting technologies similar to the powerQUBE that use a process known as anerobic digestion -- a series of processes in which microrganisms break down biodegradable material such as food waste in the absence of oxygen -- and transform it into a biogas composed primarily of methane and carbon dioxide.
The state's commercial food waste ban requires any entity that disposes of at least one ton of organic waste a week to donate or re-purpose the useable food. Any remaining food waste will be required to be shipped to either an anerobic digestion facility, a composting operation, or an animal-feed operation, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Residential food waste is not included in the ban.
On the West Coast, the cities of Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. have enacted commercial food waste bans that are stricter than Massachusetts'. But the practice has also made inroads on the East Coast, with commercial food bans in effect in both Connecticut and Vermont. The practice is also under consideration in New York City.
Kimmell said the state decided to institute the ban here because Massachusetts is running out of landfill space, has placed a moratorium on the construction of new incinerators, and has been exporting food waste out of the state at a high cost.
"You take food waste and put it into a digester that converts it into a gas that can be used for electric generation," Kimmell said. "You're turning a solid waste problem into an environmental solution."
"We believe that it will cost less for people to put food into digesters, or put it into farms, than to put it into incinerators," he said.
The powerQUBE technology was originally designed by QUBE Renewables Ltd., a British company. It was formed in response to a brief from the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense that sought to explore ways that waste, including human sewage, could be used to provide energy in the country's forward operating military bases. The technology wasn't released for sale until 2012, according to Mills.
"Essentially, we use a bacteria that destroys the waste," Mills said. "The heat that is generated is passed through a pasteurization process. The methane gas which these things give off is put through a gas engine."
Mills said Enviro-ResourcesTC uses a modular unit that is housed in a 20-foot container. The unit can be quickly installed and made operational, and can be scaled to meet varying waste volume needs. It can operate as a stand-alone island, or be tied to a grid. The system reduces landfill waste and does not produce significant pollutants.
"The smallest one can take a half ton of food waste a day, and will give you about 37,000 kilo/hours of electricity; 53,000 kilo/hours of hot water at 80 degrees centigrade (176 degrees Fahrenheit), and a fertilizer that you can use," Mills said.
John Majercak, the executive director of the Center for Eco-Technology, which has an office in Pittsfield, said there are several kinds of anerobic digestion technologies, and that they have been used in Europe for many years.
"In general, the technology itself is sound," Majercak said. "We've been doing this in landfills for years. Landfills break waste down into methane gas. It's captured, but it's not an efficient way of doing it. Doing it with anerobic digestion there's a chance for it to be more efficient.
"Like any technology it's the recipe and how it all works together that determines whether it works or not," Majercak said. "Conceptually, it's proven to be sound in many parts of this country and the world."
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