Alec MacLeod is COO of TerraLogix Group, LLC. The Annapolis, MD firm is a manufacturer and facilitator of Waste to Energy technology using a process known as pyrolysis. All four partners in the firm including are tireless advocates for the technology’s use as a global sanitation solution. We will share Alec’s recently updated white paper ‘Nasty to Nice’ here on the Terralogix Blog in three installments.
In Part III Alec details the TerraLogix system. He gives us an overview for use as an energy production platform as well as its powerful use as a global sanitation solution for municipalities, farming, agribusiness and governments.
The TerraLogix System
The TerraLogix Group pyrolysis and electrical generation system starts with preparation of the feedstock to be pyrolized. This focuses on two factors: bringing the moisture content to 20% or less and, as necessary, pelletizing the material for even and predictable processing. Following feedstock preparation, the material is fed continuously into the pyrolizer, which is itself computer and operator monitored and controlled.
As pyrolysis continues, the various products materialize. Some of these, including the bio-oil and the biochar, are collected to undergo further processing and refinement. Depending upon the feedstock, the biochar may emerge as a fine powder and as such would be difficult and unpleasant to handle. Finely textured biochar is therefore pelletized prior to being packaged for distribution to its various markets. The bio-oil is placed in containers and either shipped for use as is or taken elsewhere for refinement into a diesel fuel usable in vehicles and other diesel powered machinery. The syngas is polished, if necessary, then routed to the generator. The pyrolysis-derived heat is used to create steam for a turbine generator or processed through a heart engine, which then powers a generator. The heat may also be utilized to heat buildings or water.
As noted above, electricity can be generated using both fuel and heat. And the system can be managed to create different balances of products. For instance, if it is desired to produce almost all syngas for electrical generation and correspondingly little bio-oil and biochar, the system is run hot, up to 1,0000 C. If more oil and char are desired, the system is run at 400 – 5000 C. The balance of products is predicated upon the needs of the client as well as in response to whatever markets exist at any given time.
TerraLogix pyrolysis/generation systems are available at different scales. The smallest system is based on a mobile truck-mounted pyrolysis unit capable of processing 100 to 500 pounds of feedstock per hour and, paired with an appropriately sized electrical generator, can generate up to approximately 250 kilowatts of electricity per hour. The intermediate system is trailer-mounted (or barge-mounted) and can handle two to four tons per hour, feeding a generator capable of generating up to four megawatts of power. The largest system is stationary and can be very large indeed. It can take in 10 tons of feedstock or more per hour, enabling generation of at least 10 megawatts of electricity.
Bio-waste Disposal Opportunities
Generation and sale of the products and byproducts described above are not the primary focus of this paper – rather, it is the intake element of the biochar production process that offers potentially the highest and most dynamic social, environmental and economic opportunities.
Wastewater Treatment Plant Sludge: Currently, the wastes from many thousands of sewage treatment plants are being collected and either burned, producing pollutants and yielding a relatively small amount of energy, or land-applied, or dumped at sea, or placed in landfills. Having a collector come to pick up sewage sludge is expensive, and what’s being done with it is not only a waste of a highly energetic raw material but is generally highly polluting and does nothing to sequester carbon or generate any other significant corollary value.
Confined Animal Feed Operations: CAFOs have a serious manure problem. And the waste from CAFOs is not only extremely energetic, it is also fairly easy to deal with – there are virtually no extraneous elements such as unwanted trash or other flushed debris. Regulatory definitions of CAFOs are included in the EPA’s CAFO Final Rule of 2008, which also specifies that CAFOs must file Notices of Intent seeking coverage under the EPA’s National Pollution.
Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit if discharges of manure will occur. This includes land applications of manure as well as other discharges to Waters of the US. Provision of manure to biochar production plants or location of a pyrolysis plant at the CAFO site enables the CAFO operator to certify to the EPA that no discharges of manure will occur to either land or water. And no discharges means no requirement for a permit, and no need to pay for expensive manure disposal methodologies, find land for land-application of manure, or nutrient management plans, or monitoring of discharges, or payments of fines for accidental or otherwise improper discharges.
The Regulatory Mandate: Therefore, in consideration of business opportunity, it is worth noting that the pyrolytic conversion of animal wastes and human sludge satisfies a broad set of regulatory requirements. Not only are sewage treatment plants required to remove accumulated sludge periodically, but the disposal of the sludge must meet certain stringent requirements. CAFOs can avoid expensive sequences of manure management and reporting requirements through certification of “no discharge.”
Bio-waste Disposal Costs and Mandates
There is, to say the least, a lot of biological waste material to dispose of, and it costs a vast amount to deal with it using current disposal methods. For instance, a November 2008 report by the New Hampshire Commission to Study Methods and Costs of Sewage, Sludge and Septage Disposal (HB 699, Chapter 253, Laws of 2007) states that in 2007, the state of New Hampshire generated 97,600 wet tons of sewage sludge (roughly equivalent to 7,600 tons of sludge feedstock for pyrolysis). Disposal costs were approximately $75 per wet ton for a total of somewhat over $7 million. This is an example of a direct cost to municipalities.
Disposal costs are also indirect. A Sept. 6, 2007 report from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies states: “Dairy cows in CAFOs upstream from Lake Waco created 5.7 million pounds of manure per day that was over-applied to land and made its way into the lake. The state found that nearly 90% of the controllable phosphorus in the river came from CAFOs in the watershed, and an independent researcher who conducted much of the state’s analysis found that dairy waste applied to fields supplied up to 44% of the lake’s phosphorus. From 1995 to 2005, the city spent $3.5 million on phosphorus-related water pollution, and has spent a total of approximately $70 million to improve water treatment. To recoup costs the city filed suit against 14 large industrial dairies in 2003 and eventually reached a settlement with the defendants.”
EPA rules promulgated in 2003 and 2008 require that land application of manure from CAFOs be metered per comprehensive nutrient management plans. As a result, there are limits to the quantities of manure that can be land-applied per area of land, and land available for land application of manure has, in most regions of the country, become scarce. CAFO operators are therefore compelled to ship manure farther and farther from its source, competing with other operators who are similarly seeking opportunities for land application. Further, it has become clear that soils and vegetation are not able to absorb as much of the nutrient loading as was previously believed. And further yet, phosphorus, typically the limiting nutrient in aquatic systems, accumulates in soils over time such that heavy runoff events deliver devastating phosphorus loads to receiving water bodies.
The costliness of bio-waste disposal – in combination with the collateral damage generated by improper/incomplete disposal of bio-wastes – in combination with the regulatory (and social) mandate for full and documented bio-waste management – in combination with the growing market for carbon credits – in combination with the benefits and salable products yielded by the pyrolysis process offers a full set of excellent reasons for municipalities and CAFO operators to consider this new approach to bio-waste disposal.
The TerraLogix pyrolysis/electrical generation system offers an innovative, clean and cost- reducing approach to management of bio-wastes, including municipal sludge and CAFO manure. Although implementation of the TerraLogix system is in the pilot project stage, each component of the system is well known and amply proven, and there are no real obstacles to full deployment other than the unfamiliarity of the approach to potential customers.
The TerraLogix system is compelling because it solves so very many problems. It disposes of bio-wastes with little or no emissions, it destroys waste-borne pathogens and pharmaceuticals, it generates energy in several forms, it prevents influx of pollution to surface and ground waters, it satisfies a number of regulatory mandates, it is carbon-negative, it considerably reduces the need for fertilizers and thereby reduces fertilizer runoff, and it returns agriculture to being carbon- based, versus being based upon sterile soil with inputs of commercial nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The system generates income, creates jobs and reduces the need for trucking large volumes of unpleasant and heavy material.
In short, this is a win, win, win technology. We believe that initial deployment of the TerraLogix system will prove cost effective and popular, and that once its financial, social and environmental benefits are known, and use will become wide-spread and routine.