Republic Services’ new 20 MW Californian waste plant highlights growing biomass conversion market

The new landfill gas-to-energy facility will be constructed at Sunshine Canyon Landfill near Los Angeles and will generate electricity to power approximately 25,000 homes, Republic Services said.

The project is the outcome of a partnership between Republic Services and Sunshine Gas Producers, a joint venture between DTE Biomass Energy and Aria Energy.

“Landfills play a more consequential role in society now than ever before,” said Ron Krall, area president of Republic Services.

“Today’s landfill must be sophisticated and leverage the power of science and engineering to help regenerate the local ecosystem,” Krall said.

“[The plant] will be there to help a great community achieve its sustainability goals,” he added.

Republic Services, Inc. is the second largest domestic non-hazardous solid waste services provider in the US. The firm has more than 30,000 employees nationwide and it serves over 2,700 municipalities and communities across the US.

The company has 340 collection operations, 197 transfer stations, 190 active solid waste landfills and 61 recycling centers as well as 73 landfill gas and renewable energy projects across 39 US states and Puerto Rico.

A growing market

“The Sunshine Canyon LFGTE project, which will convert landfill biogas into methane for electrical power production, is indicative of the growing market in the US for renewable energy, and more specifically, the biomass conversion component,” Richard Olliver, President of Aplethora Energy Services, told Renewable Waste Intelligence. Aplethora Energy Services was not involved in the Sunshine Canyon project.

“The developer of the project is a team comprised of prominent firms with an historical presence in this growing sector, namely Republic Services, DTE Biomass Energy and Aria Energy,” Olliver continued.

Large projects - over 10 MW - are the most desirable, since they might offer a real option between local electricity generation and natural gas pipeline direct injection, said Claude Cahen, Director of Energy Technologies at Green Box NA.

Assuming current disposal rates, the Sunshine Canyon Landfill will remain open until 2037. However, the construction of the plant could extend its life, the Sunshine Canyon Landfill website said.

The future of the LFGTE sector

The LFGTE market will continue to grow in the US at a good pace, as the biomass facet of the renewable energy arena expands along with mainly wind and solar projects, said Olliver.

LFGTE will likely remain a popular choice for project development within the overall biomass conversion space, due to the common positive attributes of predictable and secure feedstock supply, Olliver added.

This is a proven technology with relatively low capital investment and short project development cycle duration, which can rely on the proximity of feed supply and market outlet for electrical power distribution, Olliver added.

However, according to Joseph Vaillancourt, Founder and Managing Partner at Venture Enterprises, “the outlook for LFGTE is somewhat questionable”.

According to Vaillancourt, the current focus on diverting waste from landfills has limited expectations of long term growth in LFGTE projects.

Regulations on existing landfills drive various materials such as organics out of the sites, which can have a negative impact on the creation of methane and therefore putting a financial strain on project development, Vaillancourt said.

LFGTE projects, like all capital intensive activities, need long term reasonably assured and stable operations to make sense financially, he added.