The Bioenergy Producers Association was founded in 2004 to advance the development and commercialization of sustainable, environmentally preferable industries that produce renewable energy from agricultural, forestry and urban sources of biomass.
Over the past 17 years, California’s legislative and administrative policies have essentially prohibited non-combustion thermal technologies, i.e. pyrolysis and gasification, from using municipal solid waste (MSW) feedstocks in the production of low carbon fuels, chemicals, renewable natural gas and other biobased products.
Due in part to the state’s myopic view that traditional recycling, anaerobic digestion and composting are the only acceptable means of processing MSW, California has placed 337.7 million tons of post-recycled waste in landfills during the past ten years, and the state’s recycling rate has declined from 50% in 2014 to 37% in 2019 (the last year for which the rate has been made public).
|Millions of Tons of MSW Landfilled in California*|
|California’s Recycling Rate|
|* As reported by the landfills for IWM Fee assessment|
Since its founding, this Association has led four unsuccessful legislative campaigns to correct a scientifically inaccurate definition of gasification in statute and to address other statutory and regulatory provisions that have restricted investors and technology providers from developing projects in California. All of these legislative proposals would have preserved the integrity of existing recycling programs while expanding the integrated waste management toolbox to include clean technologies capable of converting landfill-bound materials to beneficial use.
Click here to read a comprehensive 2021 white paper by the Association’s Chairman, Jim Stewart, describing in detail the issues that have prevented the production of solid waste-derived biofuels and other biobased products in the state–issues its legislative programs have attempted to address.
He also addressed this subject in an article entitled “A Decade of Progress in California? Not for its Recycling Rate” in the September-October 2020 issue of MSW Magazine. The article focused on California’s declining recycling rate and the need for legislative and regulatory reform to enable the production of bioenergy, chemicals and pipeline-quality RNG from the more than 40 million tons of municipal solid waste that the state places in landfills each year. Theoretically, this volume of waste contains enough energy value to produce more than 1.6 billion gallons of low carbon fuel.
And yet, as many as ten projects using these same thermal conversion technologies are now in development or operation in the San Joaquin Valley, because the repressive statute that prevents the use of MSW feedstocks does not apply to single stream cellulosic agricultural wastes. This is not only an issue of fairness, it has resulted in a tremendous waste of organic resources.
According to a 2019 Jet Propulsion Laboratory survey of 272,000 facilities and components, less than 0.2% of California’s infrastructure elements are responsible for 34–46% of its total methane emissions. It found that waste management is the largest methane point source emission sector in the state (41% of the JPL study total), driven by the emissions from only 11% of the state’s 270 active or closed landfills. The study also showed that composting facilities can be a significant source of methane.
Scott Smithline, the former Director of CalRecycle, once said, “The state’s economic resurgence is impressive, but we have to find ways around the barriers to consistent, sustainable reductions in disposal.” Conversion technologies could and should be a key element in this effort, if only our state’s administration and its legislators would move to create a reasonable legislative and regulatory environment for these technologies.
There are major initiatives evolving in Sacramento, perhaps a perfect storm of initiatives, which lead this Association to believe that the time is approaching for our governor and legislature to recognize the potential of these 21st century conversion technologies and take action.
- AB 341 mandated the 75% recycling of organics by 2020, a goal it has already missed, and 100% by 2025, a goal it will never reach unless it expands its toolbox for productive waste disposal.
- Further, SB 1383, passed in 2016, requires a 50% reduction in organic waste disposal from 2014 levels by 2020 and a 75% reduction by 2025. In addition, SB 1383 requires that not less than 20% of the edible food currently disposed be recovered for human consumption by 2025.
- Continuing, SB 32 requires that statewide greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 40% below the 1990 level by 2030.
- SB 350 has mandated that 50% of the state’s power be renewable by 2030. For Southern California Gas alone, that would require 50 billion cubic feet of renewable natural gas per year. Southern California Gas has estimated the types and number of facilities that the utility will require to meet that goal. It includes 14 gasification facilities capable of producing 42,000 SCFM of RNG (biomethane) from municipal solid waste.
- California now has a Low Carbon Fuel Standard in place, with no technologies available that can produce qualifying gasoline. Solid waste conversion technologies exist that can produce drop-in gasoline with a carbon intensity that meets this standard.
- And State policy is focused on reducing California’s consumption of petroleum transportation fuels by 50% by 2030.
To achieve the state’s 50% diversion of organics from landfills in 2020 would have required the state to reduce by 10 million tons the amount of post-recycled MSW being placed in landfills this year–an impossibility. And to reach 75% diversion by 2025 will require a 27 million-ton reduction, a goal that will be never be attained without the implementation of new technologies and new approaches to the management of solid wastes.
And this, when green waste no longer qualifies as diversion when used as daily cover in landfills. AB 3163, which passed and signed by the Governor in August of this year, enabled the use of thermal conversion technologies for the production and pipeline injection of renewable natural gas, but by omission, specifically disqualified the use of MSW as a feedstock in the process.
California law (PRC 40180) defines recycling, as “the process of collecting, sorting, cleansing, treating, and reconstituting of materials that would otherwise become solid waste, and returning them to the economic mainstream in the form of raw material for new, reused, or reconstituted products, which meet the quality standards necessary to be used in the marketplace.”
In the administration’s implementation of AB 341 and other waste-related initiatives, current regulatory practice rarely adheres to this definition, overlooking technologies capable or returning recyclable materials “to the economic mainstream in the form of raw materials”, i.e., embracing the recycling of carbon on the molecular level, not simply recycling finished products. In many states across the country, the production of renewable energy is accepted as a primary step in recycling, not the last step.
The BioEnergy Producers Association believes the issues to be addressed under AB 341 should be much more far-reaching.
The industry has embarked on a paradigm shift. It has been estimated that energy recovery will ultimately generate 70% of the revenue attributable to next-generation waste management technologies in North America.
We maintain that by the end of this decade, the production of renewable energy from organic wastes will be widely accepted as a primary step in recycling, not the last step.
One day, the recycling of MSW’s carbon content at its molecular level will be seen as an asset, a strategic resource in a circular economy.