A converted ethanol plant near Cedar Rapids that used to process corn is now making a product its owners affectionately call “trash-a-nol.” Craig Stuart-Paul, the C.E.O. of Fiberight, says the plant in Blairstown is using waste fibers from International Paper’s nearby Cedar River mill to make cellulosic ethanol, but he says they have even bigger plans — to turn garbage into “green” gasoline.
“We plan to build another building onsite which will be able to handle residential waste from — starting off with Benton County,” Stuart-Paul says. “We are in discussions with Benton County on the appropriate ways to do that. Their landfill is only 1.7 miles away and that landfill is filling up. We’re able to offer a good solution to Benton County that hopefully saves them a significant amount of money moving forward.” Stuart-Paul calls the source for their new fuel “black bag M-S-W” or municipal solid waste.
“You fill your trash can, generally people use black bags, as opposed to construction waste, which is more difficult to convert,” Stuart-Paul says. “We’re really looking for residential waste.” In the final scene of the movie, “Back to the Future,” a time-traveling scientist up-ends a trash can and dumps household garbage into a processor atop the DeLorean’s engine to use as fuel, everything including coffee grounds and banana peels. Stuart-Paul says the real-life “trash-a-nol” conversion process isn’t quite that simple yet, but constant advances are being made.
Stuart-Paul says, “What we can do is take black bag waste, the stuff you throw out, run it through our process, separate the metals, the recyclables, the plastics, the shall we say ‘other’ material, the smellier stuff, and an awful lot of pulp, which is residual packaging waste, things as diverse as potato peelings and so on, which are high in cellulose and are convertable under our process into biofuel.” International Paper started shipping Fiberight its organic fiber waste at the beginning of May.
The company plans to introduce organic pulps, the stuff made from residential trash, to the fuel-making process within weeks. Fiberight, which is based in Maryland, plans to spend about 25-million dollars to fully convert the Blairstown plant. Stuart-Paul says is should be able to produce up to six-million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year when the plant reaches capacity in 2011.