California company to convert trash to energy, county says

In the next few years, trash from Maui residents and businesses may be converted into energy, helping to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels.

Thursday, the county announced its selection of Anaergia Services of Carlsbad, Calif., for the county’s Integrated Waste Conversion and Energy Project that will divert roughly 85 percent of waste from the Central Maui Landfill and produce renewable fuels.

“Living on an island, we are always looking for ways to preserve our aina and make better use of our natural resources,” Mayor Alan Arakawa said in a news release. “That is why this IWCEP project is so important. We are looking at reducing waste in our landfill, cutting down the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, producing a clean biofuel for industrial consumers as well as greatly expanding the recycling of materials in our community.”

County Director of Environmental Management Kyle Ginoza and officials from Anaergia said Thursday that they hope the project will come online at the end of 2016. Anaergia was selected from 20 submitted proposals to the county.

Arun Sharma, the director of business development for Anaergia’s Pacific Region, said in an email that the company pursues projects globally and has built hundreds of bioenergy facilities worldwide. Anaergia Services’ parent company, Anaergia Inc., is located in Ontario, Canada.

“The IWCEP has the potential to become a model of sustainability for North America and the world, and Anaergia is very excited to be part of it,” he said.

On Maui, Anaergia plans to build a $100 million-plus facility on county land near the Central Maui Landfill. The plant will consist of a processing facility to extract recyclable material and to convert residual material into fuel, Sharma said.

Earlier this year, the county had said it was looking to sell the energy produced from the project to Maui Electric Co. But it turns out that MECO is not able to receive the amount of energy from the plant 24/7, so the county sought other options, Ginoza said.

On Thursday, MECO said in a written statement: “We have been and continue to work with the County of Maui on their renewable energy efforts. Our goal is to provide for the energy needs of Maui residents at the lowest possible cost, while reducing our island’s dependence on oil. With this in mind, we are interested in learning more about the details of this developer’s plan and ways that we may work together in the future.”

Sharma said that Anaergia officials have not discussed the project with Maui Electric, but if economically feasible, selling power to MECO could be a consideration.

The current plan is for the county to divert its waste to Anaergia, which will then process the material into two renewable fuels.

One is a refuse derived fuel, or RDF. The end product will look like an elongated charcoal briquette that can be used similar to coal, said Ginoza. The other fuel is a liquefied natural gas.

Anaergia will be able to sell the fuels for its own profit, Ginoza said. Sharma said that the company will sell the fuels to local Hawaii markets but did not disclose specific companies.

The process of converting trash into refuse-derived fuel involves shredding the trash and then drying it, Ginoza said. In the process, the company also will remove recyclable materials such as cardboard.

Instead of burning the shredded trash for fuel on the spot, like what is done on Oahu at the H-Power plant, Ginoza said Anaergia will densify and compact the product to create the elongated charcoal briquette.

As for producing liquefied natural gas, Ginoza explained that Anaergia will be making a biogas by using specialized bacteria. He said that organic material from the landfill will be mixed together with products such as sewage sludge. The company will be using an anaerobic digestion method to produce the natural gas.

A small portion of renewable natural gas will be used to generate electricity for some of the project, said Sharma. There will be no large smokestacks at the plant.

The county will lease the company a parcel of land just makai of the Central Maui Landfill, Ginoza said. The contract is for 20 years.

The county will pay Anaergia $68 per ton for disposal of its waste. Current tipping fees for commercial users are higher at $71 per ton, he said, noting that the Maui County Council, not the administration, sets those fees.

Overall, the project should save the county money, Ginoza said. He said that the county will not have to develop new landfills anytime soon because this project could absorb much of Maui’s waste. In addition, there would be the added benefit of not turning more property into landfills, which are difficult to reuse after capping.

Other benefits include the reduction of methane gas production from the decomposition of waste in the landfill, and the Anaergia process will result in reducing emissions equivalent to taking 25,000 cars off the road, he said.

Sharma said Anaergia is expected to hire 30 employees for the plant, with most jobs to be filled by local residents.

On the county side, Ginoza said that no one will be losing their job because of the agreement, although Anaergia may want to hire some of the current county employees.

Arakawa said that the selection of Anaergia is the first step in a long process.

“Over the next few months, we will be asking the council and the public to help provide feedback on the project,” he said. “We will also be conducting a thorough environmental review to carefully assess the project’s impacts and benefits to our island’s sustainability.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at