MARTINSBURG – The first renewable energy facility of its kind in the United States, Martinsburg’s own Entsorga, finishes final preparations as the facility prepares to begin taking its first loads of waste at the end of March.
The renewable energy facility has been an eight-year process for BioHiTech Global, Inc., a technology and services company that provides cost-effective and sustainable waste management solutions, and will be the first facility of its kind in the United States, mirroring a facility that has already had success in Europe.
“There are not many places where you can have that kind of closed story, but that’s what’s so cool about Martinsburg. West Virginia has had this bad reputation of throwing trash on the ground or burning and for a long time West Virginia took everyone else’s waste, but now West Virginia is the first to take the step to use their waste as a commodity. West Virginia is the first to take this step in the country,” Emily Dyson, director of science research and development for BioHiTech and project manager for Entsorga, said. “Before we can start the process, though, we have to be able to fill the bio oxidation hall so we’ll start taking waste by the end of the month and hope to be in full operation by the end of the spring. I’m very excited to see this completed.”
Dyson said that she began working on the project through the environmental permitting and land use permitting stage with the county, which she said then evolved into looking into design plans and moved into her managing the project.
“We are currently commissioning and making sure that all of the equipment is working,” Dyson said. “Any time that you have this much manufacturing equipment you’ve got to make sure that everything is built well. We had some very good contractors who did very well.”
Dyson explained that the beginning of the process starts in two large pits where the trucks hauling waste will back up to and dump in their load after having weighed the intake load on a large scale in front of the facility.
“Fast rolling doors, in a matter of three to five seconds, ensure that the whole building stays under negative pressure,” Dyson said. “All of the odor will stay in the building meaning when you’re standing near this you won’t smell trash. Meanwhile, under the grates at bottom of the dumping pits, are fans that start the biological process of breaking the waste down, or composting. There’s never a time that waste is just sitting, not being broken down.”
A large overhead crane and grapple will then reach into the pits and drop the waste into the first large hopper, which Dyson explained begins the first mechanical step of the mechanical biological process. Dyson said that the biology starts in the pits when air is moving through the waste.
“The facility is all automated so there is never human intervention with the waste,” Dyson said. “People won’t be in the bio oxidation area. We have two cranes and everything is done through sensors. At peak operation, 18 to 20 employees will work over two shifts; an electrician, mechanic, supervisors, control room operators and laborers.”
From the first hopper, Dyson explained that the waste drops into the first trammel — a large cylinder that is filled with holes — where waste will go up a conveyor belt. Large plastic and cardboard, or ‘overs’, will fall out into one pit, and small pieces of organic material, called ‘unders’, will then go into the bio oxidation hall.
“Here we make SRFs, which is an engineer specified fuel, and RDFs, which is not specified, but rather a waste that is dried out, pelletized and has no blend requirements,” Dyson explained. “Where most composting can take anywhere from three to six months, this facility will be able to create these composts in 10 to 14 days.”
Dyson said that sensors measure humidity and temperature and adjust those factors depending on how the piles of compost. She went on to explain that along the cranes there are sensors that identify when a pile is ready, and it sends a signal to the crane that allows it to pick up and move that pile to the next stage of the process from anywhere in that bio oxidation hall.
“This facility has a huge game change possibility for this community,” Dyson said. “They generate the waste that normally would go to a landfill, but now you’re taking trucks that normally would be driving 100 miles north potentially to landfills, those trucks are off the road cause they’re coming here. Then the fuel we make here gets sent to Argos, where it’s going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because we offset coal by 30 percent. In the same community where they generated the waste, they’re actually going to close the loop and make the air quality of where they live better just with the waste they generated.”
Dyson said that the design ensures that waste is continually being processed through the facility and being put out to be sold to operations like Argos or other cement facilities.
“The design is from Wilshire, England,” Dyson said. “We picked up the design and brought it here. The only difference is the room we have for commercial and industrial waste such as paper rolls, scraps of carpet and car fluff. It’s all really good feedstock fuel and burns very hot; that stuff can be added to the materials that have now been dried for 10 to 14 days.”
The combination of dried materials and mixed industrial materials comes off of the hopper and goes on conveyor belts that pulls off ‘finds’, such as glass and stones, that will go to the landfill and pulls out tin and aluminum that will go back into the recycling stream.
“If you have people who are not taking advantage of curbside recycling, we will be able to pull those recyclables out,” Dyson said. “We’re a benefit to the recycling in the community. People will be recycling whether they want to or not, they’ll be doing their part.”
The process ends with a variety of conveyor belts with air shakers that ensure small and large parts apart. The process will sort larger parts back through a second trammel that has smaller holes so that the materials are being circulated continuously until they are the right size to fall down, a measure that Dyson said is “redundancy in the process so that we have a high quality fuel.”
“What’s impressive are the pipes and flexible hoses above these belts that ensure that every conveyor is closed,” Dyson said. “A huge vacuum system sucks up particulates so if the doors open there isn’t stuff blowing around. The particulates are housed in a bag house that has 500 bags, and every now and then it shakes and all of the dust falls down and can be cleaned out. It makes it so that there are no real emissions out of this plant.”
Dyson said that the large bio filter behind the building makes it so that there is no trash smell as well. She explained that all of the air is “pulled out and sucked back in and circulated through the bio filter so that all that’s left is the mulch and moss smell.”
Despite the expansive work that the facility will be doing, according to Dyson, residents in the counties that Apple Valley Waste serves — Jefferson, Hardy, Morgan, and Berkley counties — will not see a change in the tipping fee that they pay for waste pickup regularly.
“There will be no change to the bill the home owner sees,” Dyson said. “The little white house on the corner will pay the same fee they always have, it’s just going here to Entsorga instead of the landfill.”
Dyson said that the biggest impact from the facility is the 80 percent landfill diversion. Dyson explained that landfills wouldn’t be putting off the same amount of methane gas because of the work that the facility will be doing.
“We are making it an impressive facility that is a game changer in waste because there has not been a whole lot of change in how we deal with waste in so many years, but this facility will make a huge difference,” Dyson said. “And yes, we have one in permitting in New York just south of Albany. We make it so that landfills can last upwards of 50 years longer. There’s still a need for landfills but we are putting less into them.”
For more information on the cleanup efforts being made in Berkeley County and the Entsorga facility call the Solid Waste Authority office at (304) 367- 9370 or visit their website at www.berkeleycountyrecycling.com.