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Schenectady aims to turn waste into energy

Schenectady aims to turn waste into energy

Experimental public-private partnership nears finish line
Schenectady aims to turn waste into energy
Schenectady's wastewater treatment plant processes about 12.5 million gallons of wastewater a day.
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — The city is on the verge of converting its solid waste into energy as part of an experimental new project.

Biowaste Pyrolysis Solutions (BPS), the Schenectady-based company spearheading the effort, briefed residents about its demonstration project Wednesday.

“This will be the first place anywhere in the world where this process has been done in a wastewater area,” said BPS president Sam Sylvetsky. 

BPS is working with South African firm Technotherm to convert sludge, the byproduct of treated solid waste, into energy through a scientific process called pyrolysis.

Pyrolysis uses thermal heat to transform waste into a gas that can be used by turbines for electricity generation. 

The company's conversion of the city's former composting site at its wastewater treatment plant, located at 300 Anthony St., is nearly complete.

“The building will be done within two weeks,” Sylvetsky said during a public information session held at Marriott Courtyard at Mohawk Harbor.

The company recently submitted a permit application to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and is awaiting approval. 

About 18 containers of equipment are ready to be shipped to the new facility pending that approval. 

THREE NOS

City officials said they would not negotiate on three key aspects of the public-private partnership:

No cost, no odor and no risk.

“The city has no investment, so there’s no capital outlay from the city of Schenectady for this project,” said city Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond.

During its former life as a composting site, residents complained about smells at the facility, which is located near the Mohawk River on the city’s Northside.

Officials said two odor control systems will be installed at the site.

LaFond and Mayor Gary McCarthy are supportive of the project, contending it would make the city’s wastewater operations more sustainable. 

Tipping fees for sludge are scheduled to rise 60 percent this year, from $72.50 per ton to $115 per ton on Nov. 1, resulting in $385,000 in unbudgeted expenses for the city.

Those unexpected costs make the project increasingly attractive, McCarthy said.

“We’re excited about the technology and hopefully it’s going to be applicable to other communities across the state and country,” McCarthy said.

The City Council previously authorized the city to enter into a contract with BPS.

POTENTIAL SAVINGS 

The city’s wastewater treatment plant produces about 9,000 tons of sludge annually, all of which is transported by a contractor to an outside landfill. 

Through the pyrolysis process, the city could save an estimated $669,000 each year, most of it through reductions in those disposal fees.

That’s $12 million over an 18-year contract.

“As soon as we come on line, the city will probably save $10,000 per month,” Sylvetsky said.

The initial agreement will allow the plant to process 40,000 tons of dewatered sludge annually at a cost of $55 per ton.

Pyrolysis generates its own power, and the excess energy could potentially be sold to the city at a discounted rate.

“We believe we can generate electricity from the free gas but we don’t know how much,” Sylvetsky said.

Sylvetsky estimated there would be about 2,000 tons of residual “inert residue” leftover after the pyrolysis process each year which would need to be transported to a landfill. 

That byproduct also has potential uses as landfill cover, or an asphalt or concrete aggregate to be used in building structures. He also the phosphorus contained in the residue may have fertilizer applications.

HIGH CONFIDENCE 

Sylvetsky hopes the facility will ultimately import additional waste sludge from nearby communities to maximize its processing capacity, the exact number of which remains undetermined.

The facility will only accept municipal sludge, not industrial waste, and the city would receive a host fee of $3 per ton for any incoming waste.

Project leaders did, however, acknowledge a slight increase of daily truck traffic to the site amounting to 1-2 trucks on Technology Road. However, that number would be offset by a “huge reduction” in the carbon footprint stemming from fewer trips to the Rochester landfill, Sylvetsky said.

"It's a sustainable, environmentally-friendly project," he said.  

BPS was founded in 2015 in Florida and is now headquartered at Urban Co-Works at 433 State St. 

If successful, Sylvetsky said, the company plans on building plants in other U.S. cities which are adapting to changes in the solid waste disposal landscape.

If the project fizzles out, Casella Waste Systems would resume operations.

Officials acknowledged applying pyrolysis, a process which has been utilized for 150 years, to wastewater treatments plants is a new concept, but had high confidence it would work.

Richard Bingham, head engineer and owner of Technotherm, cited extensive test projects in South Africa.

“We’re not in the risk business,” he said. “We don’t want to put in a plant and leave something as a failed project.”

BPS will host an identical meeting Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Marriott Courtyard at Mohawk Harbor.

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