Bluesphere initiates multiple biogas projects in Northeast US

By Katie Fletcher | June 17, 2014

Bluesphere Corp., an international company that develops, manages and owns waste-to-energy projects, has expanded to the Northeast U.S. The company recently received one of the most difficult permits to obtain for its waste-to-energy project in Charlotte, North Carolina. “The air permit is the most difficult to get, but we had no problems according to our lender and equity provider,” said Shlomi Palas, CEO of Bluesphere. “This was the only one that was conditioned to fund, that is why we got very excited when we received it.” Bluesphere has also recently begun a 3.2 MW project in Johnston, Rhode Island, and has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a local developer operating in the recycling and compost business to co-develop a waste-to-energy project in the Boston metropolitan area. Bluesphere does not plan to stop there, they expect to have 11 facilities with six more under construction by 2018.

Palas attributes much of the growth in waste-to-energy projects with food waste bans impacting some Northeast states. Rhode Island recently took a step toward joining Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont by considering a law that bans food and organic materials from the waste stream, and indirectly promotes composting and commercial food digesters. “The ban gave a lot of power to this industry, and huge pressure to begin more and more projects,” Palas said. "The ban, effective October 1, requires any entity that disposes of at least 1 ton of organic material per week to donate or re-purpose the useable food, by “looking for a solution like biogas or using it to make compost,” Palas added.

According to SBI Energy, the thermal and biological segments reached $6 billion in 2012 and are projected to reach $29 billion by 2022. As these segments grow, Bluesphere plans to become a key player in the global waste-to-energy and renewable energy markets beginning with these facilities in the Northeast U.S.

All three facilities are being constructed by Austep, an engineering company founded in Italy. They manage the life cycle of the biogas plant from concept to production. Austep has 253 facilities in Europe, with the Charlotte project as the first one in the U.S. Bluesphere signed an engineering procurement and construction (EPC) agreement for a turnkey commissioning of the project one month ago, and they have started the designing and engineering of the Charlotte facility. “The construction timeline is 11 to 12 months, plus two to three months start-up and commissioning,” Palas said. “We have about 13 months until commencement if everything goes as planned.” The company plans on beginning construction at the end of August, and expect to be fully operational by 2015. According to Palas, the difficult permit is obtained, but the remaining standard permits include the industrial wastewater pretreatment discharge permit, solid waste permit, no exposure storm-water permit, stream and wetland delineation and determination, erosion control permit, construction surface water permit, driveway permit, water permit, sewer permit, site conceptual plan permitting building permit, and the building permit.

The facility will process organic solid and liquid waste that would normally end up in landfills. The organic waste is processed in an anaerobic digester to emit biogas, which is then turned into electricity. “The system includes thermophilic anaerobic fermentation of organic solid and liquid waste, the pretreatment including depacking, digestate treatment, including liquid digestate pretreatment and dewatered digestate drying,” Palas said.

Thermophilic fermentation is one of the advantages of the designed system. “This fermentation offers faster biological reaction rates leading to shorter retention time, increased gas yield, increased process stability, higher cogeneration energy production at 8 to 10 percent and improved reduction in pathogens due to the higher temperatures at which the process takes place, 50 to 55 degrees Celsius versus 30 to 40 degrees Celsius,” Palas said. Other advantages, Palas added, include Biopulper, a patented fully automated system for pretreatment of feed stock from inert non-biodegradable materials such as grit, sand, shells, etc., a unique biogas scrubbing system to remove the hydrogen sulfide and protect combined-heat-and-power (CHP) engines from corrosion, flexibility of feed, external heat exchange and specialized mixing in the digester, the solid and liquid digestate treatment and packaged CHP, which “have been developed to meet very strict specifications and operate under the most adverse conditions,” Palas added.

The Charlotte facility will generate 5.2 MW, and one of the largest power holding companies in the U.S. has signed a long-term contract with Bluesphere to purchase electricity generated at the plant. In addition, the compost, which is a by-product of the energy generation process, will be purchased under a contractual agreement with McGill, one of the largest privately held composting companies in the world.  The Charlotte facility will process 30,000 tons of organic solid waste into approximately 10,000 MWh of electric energy and 10,000 MWh of thermal energy annually. “In addition the system will generate around 4,000 tons per year of high quality fertilizer with more than 50 percent dry matter (DM). The facility generates revenues from intake of organic waste, as well as the sale of clean, renewable electricity and the sale of compost.

Additional funding will come from a Fortune 50 company that has signed on to provide over $14 million in debt project financing for the facility, and a leading environmental finance fund will provide equity project financing of $8 million, with an additional $1.5 million to be kept in reserve.

Production on the second waste-to-energy project in Johnston, Rhode Island “will begin construction in three to four months,” Palas said. The total revenue from the Charlotte and Rhode Island projects combined is projected at $150 million over the next 15 years. Bluesphere’s aforementioned third facility in Massachusetts is also in progress with plans of taking advantage of the site’s existing operations to build and operate a 5.2 MW waste-to-energy plant on the same premises in the Boston metropolitan area. The joint project will benefit from the site’s existing permits and feedstock supply arrangements. “We have a great synergy,” Palas said. “Our partner today receives yard waste and can combine it with the digestate that comes out of our facility in a level of 8 percent DM, and produce high levels of compost.”

These three facilities are just the beginning of waste-to-energy projects in the U.S. to help produce electricity from biogas. Bluesphere hopes with these facilities they can help two of the major global problems by creating an abundant supply of electricity to meet the energy shortage and converting waste into clean, renewable energy to reduce ecological damage.