Marion approves deal for garbage-to-ethanol facility

Solid waste recycling facility could divert waste from landfills in the region

MARION — The city continues to be determined to put itself on the map as a national leader in the effort to turn garbage into energy and other uses.

The Marion City Council Thursday unanimously approved a deal with waste-to-energy firm, Fiberight LLC, which gives the Maryland-based firm permission to build a solid waste recycling facility in an industrial area behind the city’s Public Services Center on 35th Street.

"Congratulations," Mayor Snooks Bouska said from his council seat to Craig Stuart-Paul, Fiberight’s CEO, directly after the council vote.

"Now we have to build it," Stuart-Paul said in the hallway outside the Marion meeting. He put the faciliy's cost at $20 million or more.

The Fiberight facility comes with the hope that it will allow Marion as well as other jurisdictions and private commercial haulers to divert much that goes into the landfill on Marion’s northeast border into energy and other uses.

In an interview earlier Thursday, Stuart-Paul said that the Fiberight facility in Marion brings no risk to Marion while it holds out great promise for the city to take a big step toward achieving its ambitious goal of sending zero waste to a landfill.

Fiberight is looking to start construction of what Stuart-Paul calls its "Marion Waste Revitalization Facility" by year’s end even as the city of Marion continues to work with a second firm, Plasma Power of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to try to get it to build a plant to zap garbage into energy and other uses.

Plasma Power still has not secured ample funding to build a $140-million plant, Lon Pluckhahn, Marion city manager said this week, while Stuart-Paul said Fiberight is well-funded with a $25-millon loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $2.9-million grant from the Iowa Power Fund and $20 million in private investment.

The city of Marion’s agreement with Fiberight benefits Marion and its residents in several ways and easily could change the landscape of how other cities and commercial garbage collectors do business in Linn County and beyond. Fiberight is among several firms expected to bid to divert Johnson County solid waste from Iowa City’s landfill.

For Marion, the agreement with Fiberight spells out specific benefits:

Fiberight will charge the city and haulers that contract with the city at least 10 percent less in tipping fees than they pay the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency’s landfill if they unload garbage at the Fiberight facility in Marion.

Marion will receive a host fee of 2 percent of the total tipping fees collected at the Fiberight facility should the facility take in 300 tons of garbage from outside Marion in a three-month period, a seemingly simple target at a facility designed to process 100 tons of garbage a day at the start and eventually 400 tons a day.

The Marion facility’s sorting and processing operation will turn some of the organic material it collects into compressed biogas at the facility, which in turn will be used by many of the vehicles in the city of Marion’s fleet of more than 50 vehicles for about a quarter to a third of the current price of diesel fuel. The rest of the facility’s organic material will be shipped to a shuttered ethanol plant in Blairstown in Benton County that Fiberight has purchased and is upgrading to turn organics from garbage into ethanol. Stuart-Paul said he plans to establish an E85 pump in Marion so residents can fuel up their vehicles with ethanol made from their own garbage. Fiberight has trademarked such ethanol as Trashanol.

The biggest plus for Marion is that much of its municipal solid waste will no longer go to a landfill, Ryan Miller, the city’s public services director, said last night.

Fiberight now will seek an air-quality permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which Miller said should be easily acquired. Miller said the facility is considered a recycling center and so it doesn’t need other permits.

The Marion facility’s design calls for garbage trucks to drive inside and unload their garbage on the facility floor. From there, the garbage will be directed to a conveyor system for initial sorting. Next it goes into a rotating pulp drum where it will be heated to about 260 degrees, broken apart and cleaned. It is sorted again and the organics from food waste, paper and other items are steered into an anaerobic digester. Some of the organic pulp will be converted to biogas on site and some will become ethanol at the Blairstown plant.

The facility also will capture light plastic and convert it to a polymeric wax for sale and the facility will divert for sale items like cardboard and metal.

Fiberight’s Stuart-Paul estimated that about 20 percent of what comes in the door will need to be placed in a landfill, though most of that would be zapped at the proposed Plasma Power plant if it is built one day.

The Marion-Fiberight agreement still envisions that Marion will continue to use curbside recycling, and the material collected at Marion’s curbside will remain the property of Marion and any income from it will go to Marion.

For now, Stuart-Paul said the first task of the Marion facility will be to prove that Fiberight can deliver as its demonstration facility in Virginia, one-fifth the size of the proposed Marion facility, has delivered. Marion city officials have visited the Virginia operation.

The Marion-Fiberight agreement gives Marion the option to void the agreement should Fiberight not be up and running by Jan. 1, 2015.

The city of Marion takes about 20 or so tons of municipal solid waste a day to the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency landfill at County Home Road and Highway 13.

The landfill, though, averages a take of 500 tons of solid waste a day, and Marion’s Pluckhahn and Fiberight’s Stuart-Paul said lower fees at the Fiberight plant could send some of what goes directly to the landfill to the Fiberight plant. Stuart-Paul said some 200 additional tons of garbage a day that is collected in Linn County is shipped out of state, and a lower tipping fee could divert that garbage to the Fiberight facility.

Earlier this week, the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency’s board questioned Pluckhahn about the Fiberight plant, noting that the agency depends on revenue from the garbage it takes in to support its own recycling and waste diversion projects and the landfill operation. Less garbage would mean higher prices and fewer services provided by the agency, Karmin McShane, the agency’s executive director, said this week.Steve Hershner, the city of Cedar Rapids’ utilities director, said the city of Cedar Rapids will discuss the rates Fiberight might charge for garbage compared to the landfill when any such lower rate becomes available. The city of Cedar Rapids takes about 75 tons of garbage to the landfill a day, according the agency’s figures.

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