Iowa City trash could become ethanol

$59 million biorefinary could result in an 80 percent reduction of solid waste

Iowa City Landfill maintenance worker Dwayne Uitermark, Feb. 11, 1999, at the Iowa City Landfill. (The Gazette)
Iowa City Landfill maintenance worker Dwayne Uitermark, Feb. 11, 1999, at the Iowa City Landfill. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY – Iowa City is considering participating in a trash-to-ethanol project that could result in an 80-percent reduction in the amount of solid waste going to its landfill.

City staffers have been talking with officials from Maryland-based Fiberight about the company’s plans for a $59.5 million biorefinary plant in Blairstown in Benton County.

That facility still needs to be constructed, but Fiberight has said it wants to convert municipal solid waste into biofuel.

Rick Fosse, Iowa City’s public works director, said city officials are still researching the issue, but they’re interested enough that the City Council is to receive a presentation at its work session Tuesday.

Fosse said Fiberight would take trash out of garbage trucks and sort it at a facility at the Iowa City landfill, and then a portion would be transferred to Blairstown as feedstock for the ethanol plant.

Some of what's left would be recycled, including metal, plastic and glass, Fosse said. The company’s projections show that only 20 to 25 percent of the original volume would go in the landfill, Fosse said.

The landfill takes in about 125,000 tons of trash annually, according to the city’s website. Such a large reduction would be significant and would help extend the life of the landfill, Fosse said.

The city would bear some cost for the processing of the waste, he said. The question is whether the reduction in waste going to the landfill is enough to make that a good deal.

“That’s what we’re working through now, is to make sure that this works from a financial perspective for us, as well,” he said.

Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul said ethanol can be made out of food waste, contaminated material that cannot be recycled and even used diapers.

“Yep, we can recover used diapers into biofuel,” he said.

He thinks Iowa City would be a good fit because as a college town, it’s progressive on issues like recycling and alternative energy sources. It also produces enough waste to be worth the effort, Stuart-Paul said.

The project would require a recycling center at the landfill that would be about 50,000 square feet and cost about $15 million, he said.

Other communities the company works with would require similar facilities, he said. Fiberight is in talks with a couple of other local governments, which he declined to identify.

Benton County has talked with Fiberight about providing trash, but county officials have some questions and nothing has been finalized, county Engineer Myron Parizek said.

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a conditional commitment for a $25 million loan for the Blairstown plant. Stuart-Paul hopes construction can start next spring and be finished by the end of 2013.

The company has been testing its work at a Virginia site before turning its attention to Iowa, he said.In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved Fiberight’s plan for removing recyclable material from municipal solid waste.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.