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Pitch

EcoHub: a 21st Century approach to waste that recognizes that ALL discarded materials have value. Waste is separated & reprocessed on site.


Description

Summary

The EcoHub is a 21st-century solution to the problems of flat recycling rates, growing disposal costs and the export of American jobs and resources overseas.  Centered around the breakthrough MaxDiverter waste separation technology, the EcoHub is the first true zero waste approach to repurposing the discarded resources in our waste stream.

EcoHub is a partnership of environmentally progressive companies that is revolutionizing the handling and treatment of municipal solid waste (MSW). This partnership embodies the concept of a circular economy, returning discarded materials to useful life again and again, rather than to a premature grave in a landfill. The EcoHub’s conceptual breakthrough is the absence of an artificial distinction between "waste" and "recyclables."  

Based on best-in-class material separation engineering and technology from across multiple industries, including mining and agriculture, the MaxDiverter sorts waste into up to 40 clean and consistent material streams, to dramatically increase achievable material diversion from landfills up to 95% and beyond. The ability to effectively separate comingled waste allows all material to be discarded into One Bin and to be collected by one truck on a single route.  Reducing the number of collection trucks and routes from three or two to one significantly increases the efficiency and convenience of waste collection and reduces the cost and environmental impact of collection by 30 percent or more.

Relying on physics – density, dimension, and optical properties – rather than well meaning individuals, the MaxDiverter can separate the waste stream into up to 40 clean and consistent resource streams.  These resources are then processed into consumer products and alternative fuels by the EcoHub partners. Each EcoHub represents over $800 million in private investment and approximately 600 to 900 good full-time jobs.

 


Category of the action

Reducing emissions from waste management


What actions do you propose?

The EcoHub Solution

EcoHub is an innovative collaboration of premier organizations, working together to reclaim discarded resources to achieve a waste free society. Using proven technology in innovative ways, EcoHub accurately diverts every piece of the waste stream. Once sorted, these resources can become new, viable products that will go directly to the local community – a true closed-loop solution for the world’s growing waste disposal problem. The EcoHub provides a ready-made solution for municipalities seeking to improve material diversion rates from their landfills. EcoHub can double or triple current diversion rates, while generating potential cost savings of 10% or more.

Business-as-Usual Recycling in Need of a Re-boot. Americans discard nearly 1.4 tons of material each year, or approximately 7.5 pounds per day for every man, woman and child.[1]  Despite three decades of extensive public education and expanding infrastructure, recycling rates in the U.S. have remained nearly flat since 1995, growing an anemic 0.5 percent per year.[2]  Given that approximately half of the materials that Americans assiduously separate are shipped overseas to an uncertain fate, the actual rate could be significantly lower.[3]  Moreover, on a per-ton basis, the collection and processing of recyclable materials is more than twice the cost of simple disposal, notwithstanding the modest revenues from the sale of recovered materials.[4]


In the $55 billion waste management industry, waste collection represents over 60 percent of the costs, while disposal (28%) and transfer/processing (12%) account for the remaining expense.[5]  Reducing the number of routes required to collect discarded resources is key to managing the total cost of solid waste management.

EcoHub’s Circular Integration Approach to Zero Waste. On our finite planet, there really is no “away” for solid waste. Consistent with the truth that in Nature there is no ‘waste,’ the EcoHub Partnership sees no “trash,” only resources that can be separated and transformed into their highest and best use. The concept that a community’s “waste” can be made into something useful in a cost-effective and non-polluting manner—by that community and for that community—is what we call “Circular Integration.” Circular Integration represents a true closed-loop system and will lead to the ultimate sustainable Zero Waste solution.

Figure 2: Mass Balance Diagram for Houston EcoHub

 


New Life for Old Materials. With EcoHub, over 65 percent of the waste stream (most paper, plastics and metals) is manufactured into new products.  Approximately 32 percent is converted to biogas or biofuels, plus additional useful byproducts, such as soil amendments. The final 2 percent—typically smaller and denser materials—is suitable for Alternative Daily Cover (ADC) for landfills as a substitute for soil.

Living Laboratory. EcoHub represents one of the world’s first living laboratories for the study and research of solid waste management. Furthermore, in partnership with IBM and other partners, the EcoHub will establish a Center of Excellence on Zero Waste (COE).  A central element of the COE is a collaborative research center that will welcome students, researchers, scientists, environmentalists, governments, and businesses intent on furthering a Zero Waste society.

Because the EcoHub represents such fertile ground for spinning off industry start-ups in the Zero Waste field, the COE and its embedded visitor center will include a Zero Waste incubator and programs to educate the public on Smarter Waste™.  Finally, the COE will serve as a catalyst for skills development; a job training center targeting returning veterans, the unemployed, and students; and will help reduce post-incarceration recidivism of non-violent offenders.

Scale of Operation. To operate at a scale that efficiently uses the assets deployed, an EcoHub requires long-term access to a waste stream of 2,000 tons per day, five to six days per week or 600,000 tons annually.  In terms of population, this equates to the waste generated by a residential population of approximately 800,000 to 1 million residents, or the entire commercial and residential waste stream of a city of 400,000 to 500,000.  OEC is developing engineering for 500 and 1,000 ton-per-day systems, which can service smaller populations. At these smaller waste volumes, there will be different post-processing partner mixes, depending on the solid waste mix for the area. Ideally, the EcoHub would be located on a contiguous plot of land measuring 50-70 acres, but near equivalent performance could be achieved on 2 or more parcels located less than 5 miles away.

The End of Garbage The key to achieving the EcoHub’s goals lies in the ability to separate commingled materials into homogeneous resource streams. The principal problem with business-as-usual recycling is that it relies on well-meaning, but confused or partially motivated, consumers to perform the often complex act of separation. Even with decades of exhortation and education the highest diversion rates barely break the 60% landfill diversion threshold and only then by charging exorbitant monthly fees and deploying an army of “trash police”.[6]

EcoHub believes that physics--density, dimension, and optical properties--is a far more effective, efficient and economical means of separating waste. Indeed, our revolutionary multi-patented MaxDiverter™ and VictaSort™ technology platform is as far beyond the current “state of the art” mechanical separation systems.

Guaranteed Performance. The MaxDiverter and VictaSort systems are bonded and guaranteed to divert between 75-90 percent of all recovered materials from the municipal waste stream for processing and conversion and each material stream is guaranteed to be 95 percent pure. Equipment is guaranteed to perform at 97% uptime during the typical 20-hours/day, 6 days a week the system is designed to operate.

The MaxDiverter system is currently covered by six patents encompassing over 200 claims. In fact, we are the exclusive global patent holders for municipal waste separation systems. While individual pieces of equipment are patented separately, currently there is no other waste separation system that is patented for mechanical waste separation: indeed, every single existing waste separation technology system currently in operation, as well as any future foreseeable separation systems, rely on our patents.

Not a “Dirty MRF”. Some mistakenly compare the MaxDiverter with a “dirty MRF,” which would be akin to comparing a golf cart with a Tesla. Certainly, a Tesla and a golf cart share many features: they are both electric vehicles, they each have 4 wheels, steering, a drive train and a means to accelerate and brake, seats, etc., but no one would mistake one for the other.

Golf carts are fine for moving around the golf course or a gated community, which would be the policy equivalent of typical recycling rates of 25-35 percent.

By contrast, the Tesla is an electric vehicle purpose-built for the full (or at least vast majority) range of transportation activities, not unlike the policy equivalent of diverting over 60 percent of the material stream from the landfill.

As shown in the schematic, the MaxDiverter has 58 separate sorting technologies—while the VictaSort has 24—spanning pre-sorting to dimensional and material sorting, dimension sorting, density sorting and optical sorting. The technologies used in current “state of the art” mechanical sorting facilities, sometimes characterized as “dirty MRFs” (Material Recovery Facility) only have 12 sorting steps (shaded grey).


Although basic physics-based strategies are possessed in common by both the MaxDiverter and a dirty MRF, the MaxDiverter has four times as many steps at each stage than even a “state of the art” system. Dirty MRFs fail because they were not intrinsically designed for the task to which they are being applied. Essentially, dirty MRFs have been slightly augmented from their recycling cousins, which were designed to handle paper, cans and bottles, but not much else. Achieving high diversion with a typical dirty MRF is analogous to trying to meet a goal of increased electric vehicle usage by putting a plastic windscreen on a golf cart and trying to sell it as household transportation.

LEED Certified FacilitiesEcoHub not only circularly integrates advanced resource recovery with on-site manufacturing and material conversion into end-use products; it also integrates with the community and the natural surround. Wherever possible, EcoHub campuses will reclaim and resurrect abandoned industrial sites that are remote from sensitive areas such as residential communities, schools and hospitals, injecting new life into under-used, but inherently valuable assets and rehabilitating them with green technology.

EcoHub has committed to obtaining LEED Version 4 Gold or Platinum certification for each of these facilities. We have partnered with Butler/BlueScope Buildings, which produces the world’s highest quality modular pre-engineered industrial buildings.

Each facility has a tip floor with adequate capacity for up to six full days of garbage storage and an attached process building where the sorting and baling equipment resides. An office building with an education, meeting and observation area will also be attached to the main structures.

As LEED buildings, the MaxDiverter and VictaSort facilities will be constructed with the highest quality and durability in mind. They will save significant energy compared with conventional facilities, as well as have over 1 MW of solar canopy installed over parking areas and walkways. Onsite photovoltaics and cogeneration fueled by biogas and biomass fuel pellets will supply all of the onsite thermal energy and electricity supply needs of the facility; excess energy will be sold offsite.

To ensure that dust and odors do not escape the facilities, powerful exhaust fans and effective filters will create a negative pressure environment and absorb fugitive dust and odors. The buildings and site design will capture and reuse rainwater for process make-up and facility cleaning and the site preparation will use low-impact development techniques to preserve and enhance native features and to manage stormwater for onsite wetlands and other water features.


[1] http://www.wastebusinessjournal.com/overview.htm shows 429 million tons of MSW discarded in 2011. U.S. 2011 population ~312 million.

[2] http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/ The EPA’s waste generation numbers are generally acknowledged to be too low (see, e.g. www.biocycle.net/images/art/1010/bc101016_s.pdf), although their waste characterization data is considered quite good.

[3] “Approximately half of … recycled materials are exported. Resources are being consumed, disposed, processed, and shipped abroad to end users who compete internationally for these materials.” http://www.mswmanagement.com/MSW/Articles/American_Recycling_Exporting_Our_Way_to_a_Greener_16365.aspx

[4] See for example: http://www.nyenvironmentreport.com/talking-trash-12-things-worth-knowing-about-the-citys-waste-stream/ -- New York City MSW collection costs $251/ton; Recycling collection costs = $629/ton

[5]http://www.wastebusinessjournal.com/overview.htm

[6] No one should take seriously diversion claims over 65% based on a business as usual infrastructure. If such diversion rates were found to be accurate, they would simply demonstrate that exceptions prove the rule. EcoHub would be happy to share its and others’ analyses of the falseness of excessive diversion rate achievement claims under a business as usual framework.

 


Who will take these actions?

Typically, EcoHub would secure a long-term (20+ years) contract with a municipality or group of municipalities whose combined annual waste generation exceeds 2,000 tons per day, six days a week (approximately 625,000 tons/year). This is roughly equivalent to the full waste generated (residential + non-residential) by a population of 500,000 people.

EcoHub would work with the relevant government agencies to find the appropriate property(ies) and secure operating permits. 

As the project developer, EcoHub has approximately one dozen material processing partners which take the separated materials and turns them in to value-added products for sale in the local market. Depending on local conditions and the size of the waste stream and associated EcoHub, there will be between four and nine material conversion partners that would partner on the project. 

As noted earlier, we have a strategic partnership with Butler/BlueScope buildings and both Raymond James and Morgan Stanley have regularly supplied EcoHub with "very interested" letters offering financing if certain contractual and market terms are met. In addition, depending on the market, we have more than one large ($10 billion +) EPC (Engineering, Procurement, Construction) firm having expressed interest in coordinating construction of the entire EcoHub.

Our processing partners all have long-term agreements with large companies that wish to increase the post-consumer recycled content of their products, or to increase their use of renewable gas or fuels.


Where will these actions be taken?

Initially, we will launch EcoHub in the US, starting with the ~100 municipalities that are both large enough in terms of waste and also collect their own refuse. This combination represents the largest and clearest value to client.

Because EcoHubs can process mixed waste, only one collection route is needed. Thus collection costs--which represent up to 60 percent of the cost to process waste--can be reduced between 10 and 40 percent. This, combined with an EcoHub processing cost roughly equivalent to typical landfill tipping fees makes EcoHub a very attractive proposition.


What are other key benefits?

Economics.  An EcoHub represents a significant investment in infrastructure and technology of up to $800 million per site.  Based on expected material flows, sales volumes and prices, economic activity generated by each EcoHub ranges from $600 to $800 million per year, while employing between 800 and 1100 people.

Environmental Footprint.  According to the EPA’s WaRM model, through repurposing and converting the waste stream to beneficial uses, EACH 2,000 ton/day EcoHub is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 1 million tons CO2e, the equivalent of taking over 200,000 cars off the road and over 10 trillion BTU per year.

Eliminating extra collection routes and minimizing the transport of recycled products means 10-40% cost savings, plus lower pollution emissions and energy use, as well as reduce wear and tear on residential streets. Best available technology for air pollution control and closed loop water purification and reuse is employed in all onsite technologies.


How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

The following table illustrates the potential emissions reductions for CO2e, as well as the embodied energy avoided, and the tree and water savings from using recovered vs. virgin materials, as well as the landfill volume saved resulting from an EcoHub strategy.

We have not yet included the energy or emissions benefits from reduced truck collections, or the benefits of local repurposing compared with shipping materials thousands of miles to be reprocessed.


What are the proposal’s costs?

We need to distinguish investment amounts from costs. 

Each full-scale EcoHub requires between $600 and $800 million in private investment. As noted, we have 2 large investment firms willing to fund qualifying projects.

The cost of the project, however, will be less than the current expenditure for waste management services over the evaluation period, which is the 30 years that EcoHub is designed to last. Although there is a very wide range of costs for processing waste around the country, for a typical jurisdiction, collection fees would range around $75/per ton, while tipping fees would be approximately $50/ton for a total cost of waste management being $125/ton. 

A 2,000 ton/day EcoHub would process 624,000 tons/year (6 days/week), for an annual budget of $78 million. Over 30 years (no inflation), this represents nearly $2.4 Billion, this is roughly 40% more than it would cost to capitalize and operate the EcoHub.

It should be noted that while the EPA WARM model and our calculations show that there are huge reductions in emissions compared with business as usual, this is NOT an emissions-free endeavor. We are still engaged in the industrial processes of making paper or plastic and these still require energy and chemical inputs, albeit much smaller ones. And, contrary to popular belief, large-scale composting is in fact an industrial process, with significant energy inputs and large-scale odors and emissions that must be controlled.

EcoHubs are designed to be energy self-sufficient and net exporters. In addition rainwater is reclaimed and used for industrial process make-up water. Effluent is purified in a closed loop system and reused as much as possible.  


Time line

The US generates enough waste to be processed by over 650 EcoHubs. Over the medium term, it is not unrealistic that up to 85% of the waste generated in the US could be processed by an EcoHub, given the economic and environmental advantages of doing so.

We anticipate having the first EcoHub up and running by 2018-19 and we have tremendous interest expressed by a dozen large cities that represent well over 20 EcoHubs. 

A reasonable uptake scenario would have the US market saturated by 2050. We also anticipate significant uptake overseas, but given the rapidly changing makeup of waste outside of the US, we will not forecast non-US growth at this stage.

The following figure shows how EcoHubs might be phased in over the short and medium term.


Related proposals

None to date.


References

https://www.epa.gov/warm