April 21, 2013

SIDEBAR: Kokomo said no to waste-to-energy

City officials considered trash volumes, technology.

by Mitchell Kirk

LOGANSPORT — Kokomo has in the past considered a similar option to the one currently being negotiated by Logansport and the proposed power plant’s developer, but ultimately determined the amount of trash required, among other factors, would not provide a suitable outcome.

Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said over the last few years, the city has considered alternative uses for its municipal solid waste out of a desire to reduce its landfill tipping fees. He said one of these options included developing a plant to use the waste to create electricity. It was ultimately determined the city and others in the area wouldn’t be able to produce enough to supply a realistic option.

“A lot of it came down to volumes to make their businesses work,” he said. “We really couldn’t find the right fit. I can’t speak on Logansport... Our motivation was the money we were spending on landfill tipping fees. Logansport has its own electrical utility. It’s a different motivating factor.”

Kokomo City Engineer Carey Stranahan agreed with Goodnight both on the count that Logansport’s motivation is different from Kokomo’s and that it was ultimately determined the requirements for making these kinds of facilities work could not be met in a worthwhile way, at least for Kokomo.

“Most of the time when you look at those types of facilities, the demand for the municipal solid waste is a lot higher than the supply is,” he said, adding that proposals to the city required about 1,500 tons per day for their facilities when Kokomo itself only produces about 100 tons per day.

Even after exploring acquiring more waste from surrounding cities, it was determined a waste-to-energy option for Kokomo still would not be worthwhile. He did not wish to say which companies the city met with, but said the meetings were informal and money was never spent conducting official analyses.

“You can find trash,” Stranahan said. “If you want 1,500 tons a day, you can get it... It’s a great idea and I’d love to see it come to fruition.”

However, he said companies’ perceived outlooks on what their pilot facilities were capable of were not enough to persuade city officials that a reasonable option for Kokomo could be attained.

“There’s a lot of theory out there and a lot of things that have worked on a small scale but you haven’t seen one type of technology come to the surface as being the best,” Stranahan said. “There isn’t a lot of large scale implementation of these waste-to-energy programs or projects... We perceived some risk in that.”

There were 86 waste-to-energy plants in operation in the United States in 2010, according to the latest data provided by the Energy Recovery Council, a national trade organization representing the waste-to-energy industry. One has been in operation in Indianapolis since 1988 and is owned by Covanta Energy, which owns similar facilities across the world.

Pyrolyzer, which uses a process called pyrolysis to heat feedstock into a gas that will power turbine engines to create electricity, has seen its design come to fruition in two cases in Germany, both much smaller than the plant being proposed for Logansport. The first is a four-ton-per-day facility that has been operated solely for 10 to 15 tests per year since 1999. The second was completed in 2002 and required 37 tons of feedstock per day. It ran for 1,600 hours before its contract was canceled after the customer ran short of funds. The company is also currently developing plants in Georgia, Utah and the Bahamas, all much smaller than the plant being proposed for Logansport.

Despite the fact that Pyrolyzer has never achieved anything on this scale, the study team’s project manager Alvaro Almuina and others involved in the project say the individual elements making up the entire process all work.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” Almuina said. “We’re dealing with proven technologies.”

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or

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