ALEX MATHEW, THE CEO of Biomass Energy Systems Inc., explained a waste-to-energy system his company proposes to assemble at the ITL facility on Kankakee River Drive this summer to government representatives last week.
A Chicago firm will build a prototype waste-to-energy plant at an industrial site on the city's north side, hoping to interest the Department of Defense in the portable facility.
The plant will be assembled over the next four months near an old building foundation north of the International Transload Logistics (ITL) warehouse on Kankakee River Drive.
Alex Mathew, chief operating officer of Biomass Energy Systems Inc. (BESI), based in Chicago, said his company focuses on industrial waste, typically not being recycled, being turned into an energy use. There isn't a big demand for alternative sources of energy in the United States, however.
"I can tell you, the developing world is hungry for energy," he said. In those energy- hungry regions, airline flights are canceled, lights automatically turn off after a few minutes and hotels lose power when supply cannot keep up with demand.
BESI has developed waste-to-energy systems that can reduce dependence on fossil fuel-based energy sources. Abroad, the company has a 100-ton per day waste-to-energy plant in South Korea, is building two plants in India and just signed a contract in Costa Rica. It's also constructing a facility at a naval base in Hawaii.
In the United States, BESI is developing a relationship with the Department of Defense. It's emergent technology can be useful at Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in places like Afghanistan, where thousands of soldiers are isolated in a secure zone. One of the first things established in a FOB is the power plant.
"Without power, you can't do anything else," Mathew commented. "Power is so critical.
"There is a metric by which the Department of Defense measures the value of fuel, it's by the number of soldiers, unfortunately, that are lost delivering or transporting the fuel through dangerous territory," Mathew continued. "So anything that can address ... that usage of fuel, which is mostly diesel ... would be seen as a big change in the way we run those bases."
The idea of using waste to generate energy is not new. BESI however, is proposing modular components that can be assembled into a portable system using gasification to turn waste into energy.
High temperatures are applied to organic waste, such as food scraps, paper and cardboard, without combustion. The byproduct of this reaction is combined with oxygen or steam to create synthetic gas, or syngas, which can be used as a fuel.
The BESI prototype uses a rotary kiln for gasification, which allows the process to be continuous, rather than by the batch. The rotating kiln also allows the use of mixed waste.
The system will use diesel or natural gas to heat the kiln. When it reaches the optimal temperature, the heat is turned off, and the feedstock (waste) goes into the kiln. Gasification results in the syngas that runs the generator.
In theory, if the modular system is successful in producing syngas, which will power a generator to provide electricity, FOBs will need fewer fuel trips, which could be attractive to the Department of Defense. There is also an opportunity for export, as the technology is groundbreaking.
BESI has already built the prototype modules, but needs to test the system fully assembled. For that, the company needs room and equipment to maneuver the five 40-foot trailers into place. The company will use the ITL site in Wilmington from July to September for this testing.
Assembly will take place in the first phase of the system test. In phase two, BESI will conduct "standby hot testing" in which the system is heated up, but no feedstock is processed, to make sure everything operates in hot mode.
Finally, BESI will test the complete system using wood chips from a commercial source. The power generated will go to a load bank, to waste.
The system has several safety components that will shut it down if anything goes wrong, and use a flare to burn off any gases produced.
The last step of the process will be to disconnect the components and send them to storage.
Mathew said the company would like to run the system continuously for one week, and ideally, for a full month. BESI has no confirmation yet that the Department of Defense will come to see the plant in operation.
On site needs includes a place to store wood chips, diesel storage, propane to operate the flare, temporary water and sewer service, lime powder for cleaning the system, and electrical service. The company also expects to use local tradesmen and security personnel for the setup and through the duration of the test.
Two tons of wood chips per day will produce about 60 kilowatts of electrical energy. The inert residue from the process is about 5 percent of the original volume.
Syngas produces only 10 to 30 percent of the exhaust that the same feed stock produces in an incinerator, according to Mathew. The system will create some diesel exhaust for about two hours while the kiln is heated.
Since the feedstock will already be in chip form, there will be no need to use the system's feed shredder. In addition, the generator at the end of the process is in an acoustic enclosure; Mathew anticipates the system will create very little noise.