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From waste to energy

Tribes’ biomass project would use cutting-edge technology

by Lee Juillerat, Herald and News October 29, 2008

Non-recyclable plastics, discarded tires, wood, used oil, agricultural waters and other garbage deposited at Klamath County landfills may one day produce energy.

The Klamath Tribes and Graveson Energy Management, or GEM Americas Inc., hope to convert municipal, industrial and commercial solid waste into a clean synthetic gas that can heat boilers, produce electricity or be converted into methanol. Jeff Mitchell, a tribal council member and chairman of its biomass committee, and Will Hatcher, the Tribes atural resources director, said the idea of developing a biomass plant stems, in part, from the loss of clean energy if Klamath River dams are removed. Dam removal is a key factor in implementing the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which would allocate water among tribal and fisheries interests and irrigators and conservationists.

The Tribes recently bought the former Crater Lake Mill site 25 miles north of Chiloquin. Along with using typical biomass materials like dead and salvageable wood, the Tribes are partnering with GEM to study a new process that uses municipal and other solid wastes.

“There is nothing comparable in the states,” said Brett KenCairn, a GEM spokesman. “Europe is way ahead of us.”

The company uses thermal cracking technology to convert waste into clean synthetic gas without combustion.

Air quality concerns

Members of Klamath County’s solid waste advisory committee have voiced concerns about the process and the possible release of toxins into the atmosphere.

Mike House, the committee’s director, said the Tribes would have to clear a series of costly permit and hearing processes with several agencies over a multiyear period. He said strict environmental regulations mean no energy plant would be allowed to negatively impact air quality.

“It takes basically an act of Congress to get these set up,” House said. “Until we see something coming across the desk, it’s not worth worrying about.”

No smokestacks

Ken Cairn downplayed environmental concerns.

“We are not talking about waste incineration,” he said, adding that the closed gasification system process results in no emissions. “We all know about the many complications and dangers of that. There are no smokestacks.”

But he admitted the new technology is little understood.

“There should be a healthy public dialogue,” he said. “We’re really committed to working with the county. A lot of things are coming forth that people have not heard about.”

Mitchell said preliminary talks are being held with Klamath and Deschutes counties about using municipal solid wastes, which are less expensive and more efficient than woody debris. He said using municipal solid waste at the energy plant normally destined for county landfills and transported by train to Washington could be more cost effective.

Mitchell and Hatcher said some of the energy generated would be used at the Tribes’ newly purchased mill site, which has been renamed Giiwas Green Enterprise Park. It could provide power for a variety of green forest products businesses, such as manufacturing wood chips, juniper products, bundled firewood, small diameter poles and posts, and for such agricultural uses as greenhouses.

Excess energy could be sold over the grid and transmitted on through existing lines, Mitchell said. Plans call for bringing the system online incrementally, starting with two megawatts of electricity and eventually generating up to eight megawatts.

Mitchell said the scope of the energy producing facility means the project will likely take four to five years to develop.

“A project this size doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

On the Web

For more information on Graveson Energy Management, or GEM Americas Inc., and the thermal cracking technology proposed for a Klamath Tribes biomass plant visit the company Web site at www.gemamericainc. com. For information about Graveson operations in the United Kingdom, visit the Web site at gem-ltd.co.uk.

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