Landfills have never been popular, and with recycling rates rising it’s no surprise that the U.S. waste industry is pouring dollars into the development of alternative disposal technologies. But the prospect of a green waste industry may be a little scary for communities whose livelihoods depend on burying trash. A new waste-to-energy pilot plant in Arlington shows that there may still be jobs in waste, no matter how fancy the technology gets.
S4 Energy Solutions plans to start construction in May on a cutting-edge waste-to-energy plant at the Columbia Ridge Landfill in Arlington, the company announced last month. S4 Energy Solutions, based in Houston, is a 50-50 joint venture between trash giant Waste Management and InEnTec, a Bend company that has developed a plasma gasification process that zaps household waste into a synthetic gas (syngas) that can be used to produce electricity or — hopefully — liquid fuels. S4 won’t disclose the cost of the plant, set to open at year’s end. It will create up to 28 construction jobs and 16 permanent jobs, which CEO Jeff Surma hopes to fill locally.
The plant is expected to process 25 tons of municipal solid waste a day, capable of producing between 10 million and 15 million BTUs an hour. If the technology proves functional and commercially viable, the Arlington plant will be the first of its kind in the country. There’s just one snag: What to do with the syngas. It theoretically can be converted into ethanol or even diesel, but that technology is still not fully developed. “We don’t know what we want to do with it,” says Jackie Lang, a local spokeswoman for Waste Management.
The company could convert syngas into electricity using combustion engines it owns. But Surma says it wouldn’t make sense to do that in Eastern Oregon, which already produces a lot of electricity from windmills. Whether S4 chooses to scale up will depend on whether it can generate the kind of energy that’s needed in the Northwest, he says.
Gilliam county commissioner Dennis Gronquist says he’s happy to have S4 in town. The project was a pleasant surprise for the county. S4 originally had considered building the plant in Texas.