For more than a century, coal mining has been virtually synonymous with West Virginia. Even while the industry has struggled in recent years, thousands of West Virginians have continued to work in the mines, as their fathers and grandfathers did before them.
But a new partnership between two Italian-based companies could represent a shift toward greener, more renewable energy in the Mountain State. A facility currently under construction in Berkeley County and expected to pen next summer will essentially convert garbage to fuel for use at the Essroc cement plant in Martinsburg.
The facility, to be located on Grapevine Road east of Martinsburg, will be operated by Entsorga, an energy company based in Tortona, Italy that produces alternative fuels at facilities throughout Europe and is currently looking to expand into the United States.
The project is a collaborative effort involving the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority and Apple Valley Waste as well as Entsorga. When completed, the plant will be the first resource recovery facility in the United States to use mechanical biological treatment to convert trash to fuel. While there are several such facilities in Europe, the concept is a new one here.
“We felt that a project like this is a game-changer, not only for this area, but for West Virginia and the United Sates in general,” said Frank E. Celli, a board member of Entsorga West Virginia and Apple Valle Waste.
All of the fuel created at the Entsorga facility will be transported to the Essroc cement plant in Martinsburg for use as an alternative to coal. Several years ago, Essroc officials approached their counterparts at Entsorga about building a facility here to provide a renewable fuel source.
What followed was a lengthy process that required Entsorga to clear numerous regulatory hurdles and obtain the approval of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
“The waste industry is typically highly regulated,” Celli Said. “It was a fairly robust permitting process…Any time the first of anything is deployed in the United States, it will be scrutinized.”
Part of the process included flying West Virginia officials to England so they could tour an Entsorga facility located about 90 minutes outside London.
When it came tie to find a site on which to build the plant, Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority Chairman Clint Hogbin suggested a parcel of land located at 870 Grapevine Road, adjacent to an old landfill and owned by the Solid Waste Authority. Entsorga then entered into a long-term land lease agreement with the SWA.
The Entsorga plant will consist of three sections, each vital to the “trash to fuel” process. In the first area, Celli said, organic waste is received and visually screened before receiving a mechanical sort.
At the second stage, air accelerates upward and downward, evaporating approximately 30 to 40 percent of the original waste. The remaining organic material is stabilized and dried out to prepare it for the third stage, in which metals, PVC material and plastic waste is extracted, shredded and screened.
Celli estimated that about 40 to 45 percent of the waste that comes into the plant will be shipped out to Essroc as fuel, and about 20 percent of what wasn’t used will end up in landfill. There, it will be used beneficially as cover material.
Entsorga and Essroc officials have signed a 10-year agreement for Essroc to receive 100 percent of the fuel, Celli said. The distance between the two facilities, les than three miles, is a plus.
“Operationally, it’s pretty easy,” Celli said. “They don’t usually come this easily.”
The Entsorga plant is expected to become a next generation alternative energy facility and, if all goes well, could serves as a prototype for similar facilities to be built somewhere in the United States.
“It’s an exciting proposition for West Virginia,” Celli said. “It’s an exciting proposition for Apple Valley Waste… I think the United States is in somewhat of an environmental revolution.”
Ground was broken at the Grapevine Road site in January of this year and, Celli said, site work has proceeded on schedule. Concrete should be in the ground by the end of November and building components should arrive in early 2017. IF all goes well, the facility should be up and running by next August.
The construction process has created approximately 100 temporary jobs, and when the plan is up and running, between 15 and 20 full-time employees will be needed.
Since it will be fully automated, nobody will work inside the facility except for maintenance employees, and occasionally, mechanics. All jobs will be outside the plant, and according to Celli, the skill set will be relatively high, requiring fluency in computing as well as mechanical experience. Some CDL drivers will also be needed to transport the fuel.
Celli credited local officials for helping get the Entsorga facility off the ground.
“Berkeley County should be praised for choosing clean technology,” he said, “doing things the right way and finding the right technology provider. Clean technology does not have to cost more money.”
Celli sees the Entsorga project as a public-private partnership that is working well.
“This project is an example of what good government and business can accomplish together if they work in a good coordinated fashion,” he said.