Closing the loop

Closing the loop

municipality is developing its own fuel source for fleet

Many cities and towns are either switching, or considering switching, their refuse fleets to natural gas power. In fact, more and more contracts are now specifying that fuel as a requirement for at least part of the fleet. But few cities or towns have started to make their own fuel. That’s what makes the city of Surrey, British Columbia, unique.

Surrey expects to power its natural gas refuse and recycling fleet through renewable natural gas (RNG) as part of a closed-loop system that will be fully implemented by 2014. Officially set to launch on Oct. 1 of this year, the sevenyear project includes three major components: natural gas-powered trucks, a comprehensive city-wide recycling program, and a waste-to-biofuels production facility that will turn organic wastes into a renewable form of fuel to power the vehicles.

Located about 35 min. southeast of Vancouver, Surrey, home to 470,000 residents, is the second largest city in British Columbia. Its contract with BFI Canada for the trucks required natural gas as a condition for approval. BFI will purchase approximately 50 trucks powered by compressed natural gas, which will also be capable of running on renewable natural gas. The vehicles are Mack TerraPro low-entry refuse trucks powered by Cummins Westport ISL engines and Labrie Automizer bodies.

“One of our primary corporate objectives is to decrease our carbon emissions impact stemming from fleet operations,” Robert Costanzo, deputy manager for operations in the city’s engineering department, told Fleet Owner. “A CNG fleet made the most sense given that our secondary objective is to produce our own renewable natural gas from organic waste. In the interim, while our facility is being developed, we will use conventional natural gas from our region’s local gas utility.


“We are very excited about partnering with the city of Surrey in this visionary program,” Grant Hankins, BFI Canada’s Vancouver district manager, told Energy Vision (EV), a nonprofit dedicated to renewable energy sources, for a report on Surrey’s program. The report was authored by Joanna Underwood, EV’s president, and Michael Lerner.

According to the report, Surrey estimates a 23% cut in carbon emissions and 90% cut in particulate matter with the natural gas trucks when compared to diesel equivalents. The vehicles running on RNG, more commonly known as biomethane, will produce an even greater savings, the city believes. In all, Costanzo says the city anticipates a savings of close to $1 million/ year in fuel costs.

The decision to switch to an all natural gas fleet was made after Costanzo visited a Waste Management facility running a large CNG fleet in Seattle, WA. Following that visit, Surrey enlisted Ernst & Young to conduct a risk analysis of the idea. That study supported the conclusions the city’s staff had reached, according to the Energy Vision report. Eventually, it awarded a contract to BFI Canada for delivery of the vehicles and management of the program.

But choosing the trucks was just the first part of the equation. The second part was the city’s desire to produce its own fuel—biomethane. To do that, Surrey needed a facility.

“The organic feedstock will be delivered through our curbside residential waste collection program (kitchen and yard waste) and from the commercial sector,” Costanzo says. “The biomethane produced will be scrubbed to remove carbon dioxide and reach a vehicle fuel standard and natural gas quality for injection to the natural gas utility grid.”

The plant will process 80,000 metric tons of organic wastes per year upon completion. “We will be initiating a competitive procurement process to establish a viable technology and partner who will be responsible to finance, design, build, operate and maintain the facility,” Costanzo adds. “Our goal is to complete this project and commission operation of the facility by late 2014.”

The facility will treat the organic wastes through an oxygenfree environment in an “anaerobic digester,” Energy Vision says. Inside the digester, wastes will decompose and generate biogases that will be collected, refined, and compressed for use as a fuel. To pay for the facility, Surrey has applied for a grant through the Public-Private Partnership Canada (P3 Canada) Fund program. If approved, the grant will cover 25% of the funding needed to build the almost $67 million facility, Costanzo says. The objective of the merit-based P3 Canada Fund program is to support P3 infrastructure projects that achieve value for Canadians, develop the Canadian P3 market, and generate significant public benefits, Costanzo explains.

The final part of the program is the ability to collect the organic wastes necessary to produce biomethane. To do so, the city is embarking on a new organic waste collection program for city residents and businesses. Surrey will alternate weeks of regular garbage and organic waste pickup beginning Oct. 1. A trial of this program reduced the amount of organic waste in the regular garbage stream from 65% to 20%, Energy Vision says. After 90% of surveyed residents reacted positively to the program, the city purchased 300,000 specialized carts for homeowners and businesses to collect an estimated 65,538 tons per year in organic and yard wastes.

The city also collects 30,000 tons per year of recyclables, leaving just 26,462 tons of waste per year for landfills.

Residents have been very supportive of the initiative, Costanzo says.

“While the concept of turning organic waste into a biogas to fuel vehicles certainly isn’t new, it’s new to North America,” Costanzo says. “We’ve seen an immense shift in societal attitudes towards environmental issues over the past 20 years. For example, in the realm of waste management, the public is more demanding than ever that we do more with waste diversion. Accordingly, when we tell our customers that we’ll be taking their organic waste to produce a renewable gas to fuel the trucks that collect their waste, the typical reaction we get is ‘Wow!’”

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