Minnesota waste-to-energy plant moves forward

By Lisa Gibson | October 12, 2010

Three years after its start, a waste-to-energy (WTE) facility proposed in International Falls, Minn., is slowly moving forward, having been given a jump start by the release of $2.5 million in state funding that was announced in 2008, but delayed because of complications and specifications in the language of the agreement.

Koochiching County Economic Development Authority, planning agency for the project, will use the money for preliminary engineering and preconstruction and design work, according to Paul Nevanen, director of KEDA. When the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency first awarded the money, the agency thought it would be used for feasibility studies, warranting changes in the agreement before the money could be released. “We had to go back and finesse,” Nevanen said.

Feasibility studies had been conducted, but made obvious the need for further engineering and design work. “The first round of feasibility studies actually raised more questions than it answered,” Nevanen said. The state money, which will be matched by the U.S. DOE, will allow KEDA to look more deeply into the project and address issues the studies raised, he said.

The facility will employ a plasma gasification technology capable of running on municipal solid waste, woody biomass, wastewater sludge and other feedstocks, although no contracts have been put in place. “We’ve identified the feed shed; where that radius would be,” Nevanen said, adding that KEDA has contacted most of its potential sources and is more than confident in the available supply.

KEDA will begin the permitting process in the first quarter of 2011 and if all goes well, a build team will be put together in 2012. But past delays are a reminder of the lengthy development process. “Nothing has gone according to plan,” Nevanen laughed. “We’ve lost of a lot of steam here.” The funding was the biggest hurdle in moving forward, but KEDA is also struggling with other significant changes made between the project’s initial proposal in 2007 and today. Originally, the agency thought it would need about 100 tons per day of feedstock, but has reconfigured the number to 180 tons per day, he cited. “There’s always going to be room for change,” he said. KEDA has also been in discussions with a local paper mill for offtake agreements, although nothing has been agreed upon. Ideally, KEDA would find an industrial partner that could complement its natural gas with syngas from the facility.

Nevanen said the process has been frustrating, KEDA has learned a lot and would probably do some things differently if it could start over. “All of our partners have been very patient,” he said. “We’ve got a great team in place. It’s just moving the funds.”