First garbage-to-ethanol plant in U.S. proposed for Inver Grove Heights

Source: By Erin Adler, Minneapolis Star Tribune • Posted: Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What would be the first garbage-to-ethanol plant in the United States has been proposed for Inver Grove Heights, with the capacity to process all of Dakota County’s unrecycled solid waste each year into the gasoline additive.

Enerkem, a Canadian company, delivered preliminary plans for the $200 million biofuel facility at a City Council meeting in February. Neither the city nor county has formally looked at the proposal, but the firm has begun applying for permits with the state Pollution Control Agency.

The privately financed facility wouldn’t be built for at least three years.

Council members and officials are “cautiously optimistic” about the project, said City Administrator Joe Lynch. “It’s quite exciting, if it works, to have that in our community, to be known for that in the U.S. and maybe the world,” he said.

The facility would generate taxes on a now-vacant property and create more than 100 jobs, Lynch said, that would pay $40,000 to $70,000 a year. The 10-acre site is a mile west of Hwy. 52 near the Pine Bend and Dawn Way landfills, he said.

The plant could help the county move closer to the statewide goal of recycling 75 percent of its waste by 2030, said Georg Fischer, Dakota County’s environmental resources director. The county recycles about half its garbage now, but that percentage could reach about 65 percent with additional sorting at the new plant.

There are no waste processing facilities in the south metro, Fischer said. The land is owned by SKB Environmental, a Minnesota waste management company, which would be a partner on the project and supply much of the garbage.

‘It would have an impact’

Enerkem likes Inver Grove Heights because the plant could re-use wastewater from the Empire Treatment Facility in Empire Township. Water is important because the process of converting waste to ethanol is water-intensive, using more than a million gallons daily, said David McConnell, an Enerkem vice president.

The conversion process begins with employees pulling out bulky materials. Machines separate out recyclables, organics and inert materials like rocks; what remains is shredded and breaks down into a gas, until a chemical reaction turns it into cellulosic ethanol, McConnell said.

Enerkem operates a similar plant in Edmonton, Alberta, and a demonstration facility in Quebec, and is finalizing the design of a second plant outside Montreal. With the capacity to process 1,100 to 1,500 tons of garbage a day, the Inver Grove Heights operation would be twice as big as the city-owned Edmonton plant.

Many questions need to be answered before the project moves forward, Lynch said. For instance, no one knows whether the scale of the facility would create problems. “Does the science work? Does it create environmental hazards that nobody would want to have around?” he said.

The nearest homes are 1.5 miles away from the proposed site, but workers and companies in the area may have concerns about traffic, noise, smells, lights and the building’s look, Lynch said. “That’s the reason why you go through the public process,” he said.

Fischer said the county has questions, too. The County Board would have to license the facility, he said, but that would come after the city and the state issue permits. Dakota County generates 242,000 tons of unrecycled garbage a year.

“This facility could take all of that waste,” Fischer said. “It would definitely have an impact.”