They say trash can replace fossil fuels and Fiberight's Coastal Resources of Maine facility in Hampden is designed to do just that. It combines a recycling plant and three different fuel processors – one that makes biogas, one for clean organic cellulose pulp, and a third for fuel bricks that one day may make heating fuel.
The goal is to get as much value as possible from the trash people throw away, while also reducing what goes into landfills.
“There is a lot of organic materials, 35 percent or there about is food waste in the waste stream,” Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul said while giving a tour of the plant. “If we can recover that and turn that into sugars, turn that into biogas, we can displace fossil fuels.”
Around half of the 144,000-square-foot facility off Cold Brook Road in Hampden is dedicated to recycling, with a massive system of belts and automated sorting machinery and a crew of around 45.
Mixed paper and cardboard, Number 1 and 2 plastics and metals are currently profitable to recycle and will be bundled in bulk and sold on the commodities market.
“We are going to be able, measured by weight, to make good use and create value from 70 to 80 percent of the material that comes through the door,” said Greg Lounder, Municipal Review Committee executive director.
Recycling is only part of the Fiberight process. The magic happens after the recyclables are removed and the trash is put through the pulper.
“The pulper actually takes organic materials, so the paper, packaging, food waste and the like and reduces that to sort of a popcorn pulp for further processing. That is what we make biofuels from.
“That pulp, we can either convert into sugars to make a bio-fuel or we can sell as a pulp itself and that is how the market is going,” Stuart-Paul said. “China still wants to buy our material, but they want it clean.”
There are numerous potentials uses for the cellulose pulp.
“They also have an intermediate step where they create what they call clean organics, which is like pulp -- not to make paper -- but to do something else,” said Dr. Hemant Pendse, University of Maine Forest Bioproducts Research Institute director. “I think that is an important resource that is going to add value.”
The separation process also creates liquidized food waste, called black water, that is sent to the anaerobic digester.
“In that tank, there is a sludge bed of very small marbles. On the marbles live bugs. They're called methanogens,” Stuart-Paul explained.
“Methanogens need organic materials to survive,” he said. “o they eat the organic material and excrete methane. They're basically farting energy. By doing it in a reactor, we can capture that methane.”
The final fuel the plant makes is made with the cheaper plastics.
“Film plastics will end up in the far corner, [and] in the short term we'll convert those into a fuel brickette,” Stuart-Paul said. “But in the long term with technologies that once we know how much plastics we have and what type of plastic we can sort using this machinery, we can convert that into a liquid fuel to replace fossil fuels in this market.”
Any residue left over is sent back through the recycler.
“We get another second pass at recovering it,” Stuart-Paul said. “We have 300-linear feet of opportunity to either pick it manually or automatically.”
Around 115 Municipal Review Committee communities from central, northern and Down East Maine will send their trash to Hampden. A lawsuit by a competitor and the weather have delayed the opening of the plant by a year.
The plant is scheduled to be fully operational by April 1.