It’s a gas: New biomass facility could help generate city power

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Attorney Gustaf Andreasen (left) of Howard and Howard in Royal Oak explains to City Council members Monday the proposed letter of understanding between the city and Environmental Generation Technology – Advisor LLC for an alternative energy park while Ronald Remus (second from left), owner and chief executive officer of R2 Automation Inc. and director of EGTA, and Councilmen Daniel Galeski (third from left) and Leonard Sabuda listen.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – Remember the scene from “Back to the Future” where Doc shoves garbage into his time-traveling DeLorean to power it?

It may have been based on a technology that is closer to reality than many realize.

The city soon may be able to turn trash into gas – or more specifically, biomass into syngas, which can be used to fuel an electrical power plant.

City Council members on Monday unanimously approved a letter of understanding between the city and Environmental Generation Technology – Advisor LLC for an alternative energy park on part of the city-owned property at 4800 Central.

BASF Corp. will review and approve the terms of the lease, which may include an oversight provision. The city, EGTA and BASF will be party to an environmental indemnity agreement as part of the lease.

The city’s Department of Municipal Services will enter into a power purchase agreement, which will enable it to receive renewable energy credits for electricity generated using syngas.

The letter of understanding also noted that a company identified as FWD Power also is in negotiations with the city to lease a parcel of land identified as part of the alternative energy park. FWD Power is a renewable energy company formed by Rich Sloan, a Flint entrepreneur and investor. He hopes to put a facility in Wyandotte to take trash and tires and convert them into electricity in what he calls a “no-landfill, no-pollution process.”

Biomass gasification is an alternative energy process that takes carbon-based waste and turns it into a gas at high temperatures. The gas then is used to fuel electrical generators.

Carbon-based waste, or biomass, is trash comprising once-living things like wood, rubber, plants, coal and municipal solid waste, which includes organic trash and sewage.

Scientists say the secret to success with alternative energy is to produce significantly more of it than it takes to run the process. It’s a bonus if the process is environmentally clean, safe and uses a renewable fuel source. Most biomass gasification relies on unique and patented technology that gives particular processes and companies an advantage.

Ronald Remus, director of Environmental Generation Technology LLC and chief executive of R2 Automation Inc., is a former NASA engineer and a multiple patent holder. He told city officials his company’s trade-secret technology gives it an advantage, and allows it to operate at a low cost.

Remus said its gasification process is based on more than 30 patents and 20 years of research and is self-sustaining. The syngas, or producer gas is “ultra-clean” and has “almost unlimited applications in the field of renewable energy.”

Scientists say gasification technology of carbon-based biomass has been used worldwide as an environmentally friendly renewable energy technology. They also say it does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, because biomass is carbon dioxide-neutral.

Because producer gas generated by the process is burnt instead of solid fuel, particulates and smoke emissions are extremely low, scientists say.

Gasification takes organic raw material (biomass) and uses very high temperatures to turn it into synthetic gas, or syngas, which then is used to produce electricity – and it does so more efficiently than other sources.

Remus said his gasification process allows the reactor to operate continuously with very little maintenance.

EGTA officials say its technology utilizes a patented plasma arc reformer, which enables the self-renewing, self-generating catalyst that gives it an advantage. Simply put, it means electricity can be created with less fuel input, and with materials that don’t create the same energy if they are merely burned.

The high temperatures of gasification also refine out corrosive or potentially polluting elements from the biomass. The result is a clean gas out of something that would be a pollution source if traditionally burned.

EGTA officials say gasification also can produce urea for fertilizer in a carbon-neutral process, reducing nitrogren and carbon dioxide pollution. They also say syngas can be used to manufacture ultra-clean synthetic gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.

In Wyandotte, officials said, the company likely will start gasification operations using ground-up tires before moving on to other types of biomass, which could include residents’ own garbage, although the specifics are not mentioned in the letter of understanding.

Remus assured council members that the process is safe and poses no danger to residents.

Members also unanimously approved a new solid waste collection program for which residents will use 96-gallon carts, one for normal garbage and another for curbside recycling.