Diversion Dynamics

Biomass Magazine || April 12, 2017

In Southington, Connecticut, two biogas projects are a testimony to both the catalyzing impact of new organics diversion laws, and their limits.

In July 2011, the state of Connecticut passed Public Act 11-217, possibly the nation’s very first organic waste diversion law. The law required generators of more than 104 tons of food waste per year to divert those wastes to recycling facilities, if within a 20-mile proximity of the point of generation. In July 2013, Public Act 13-285 was passed, reducing the hurdle to 52 tons a year, taking effect in 2020. 

Quantum Biopower is the first facility in Connecticut built to handle the food waste detailed in the state’s diversion law. The plant, located in Southington, was designed to process 40,000 tons annually, generating 1.2 MW of power that will be sold back to the city under a 20-year power purchase agreement. According to Brian Paganini, Quantum vice president and managing director, Quantum has been involved in material management and handling for 35 years, and started looking at ways to better handle and maximize the organic fraction of those materials in the mid-2000s, including anaerobic digestion (AD) technologies that and his team observed during trips to Germany and Switzerland. “Right around 2010 and ‘11, we started to pay more attention to the organics diversion law that was coming on line in Connecticut, and that was a piece of our decision to go full bore into an anaerobic digestion project on our site in Southington,” Paganini says.

Paganini is only willing to call Connecticut’s legislation “a piece” of Quantum’s go-forward decision, shedding some light on the impact that organics diversion laws both have and do not have on catalyzing biogas project development. “Was this something that, when we talked with our financiers, they said ‘Hey, this law is in place, we’d be happy to fully fund your project?’ No.,” he says.

Rather, Paganini credits the law with starting the conversation with both the food waste generators and refuse haulers. “Not only do we have the food waste diversion bill, but we’ve got this higher goal of a 60 percent diversion rate by 2024, and everyone knows that if we’re going to achieve that, the best way is going to be to focus on organics, and get them out of the waste stream,” he says. “It was those factors, together, that really helped us look favorably at the project dynamics.”

Another organics processing facility, Turning Earth Central Connecticut, is under development in the same community. In 2014, the company received permission to build a dry fermentation, high-solids AD and in-vessel composting facility, and has been working to move the project through the permitting phase since. In February, Turning Earth received its permit to construct and operate, and it plans to open during the middle of next year.