L.A. County Calls For Trash-to-Fuel Legislation

As many of Los Angeles County's landfills near capacity, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion calling for modern solutions to waste management.

by / October 1, 2012

In Los Angeles, one man's trash is another man's biofuel – or at least, it will be soon. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a motion late last month that calls on federal and state legislators to update trash conversion technologies in California. Presented by Supervisor Don Knabe, the motion encourages legislation in support of conversion technologies that could be used to convert some of L.A. County's 8 million tons of annual landfill waste into something useful.

“These technologies have successfully operated in dozens of other countries, but the development of similar technologies in California has been hampered by decades-old regulations that only envisioned trash being buried or burned,” L.A. County Public Works Director Gail Farber said.

The motion was partially driven by pressures to find a solution for the county's rapidly growing landfills, many of which are expected to soon reach capacity as the population outgrows the facilities available. Plans to convert garbage into biofuel fit into Los Angeles' goal to become a “zero waste” city by 2030.

Exact plans for L.A. to convert it's trash do not yet exist, but companies like Blue Fire Renewables are building plants in Lancaster, California and Fulton, Mississippi that convert sugars in waste into ethanol. The Fulton plant will “produce approximately 19 million gallons of ethanol per year from woody biomass, mill residue, and other cellulosic waste,” according to the Blue Fire Renewables website. The firm also announced plans in February to build a cellulose to sugar plant in South Korea for GS Caltex, one of the largest oil refiners in the country.

The U.S. Department of Energy has promoted garbage conversion technology over the past several years, partially funding the construction of a plant in Soperton, Georgia that converts wood waste from the timber industry into biofuels and chemicals.

Biofuel technology also dovetails into green technologies, providing a way to store energy gained by solar power, reported Scientific American. "Biomass to liquid fuel, electricity for charging of a battery or generating hydrogen, [those are] really our options," said Chemical Engineer Charles Wyman of the University of California, Riverside. "The best way to store solar energy is called biomass."

L.A.'s plans remain tentative, but if the County Board of Supervisors' motion is indicative of a greater trend, then perhaps the global waste conversion market will escalate to a value of $26 billion by 2016, as some have claimed.

“Here in L.A. County there is tremendous support for more sustainable and progressive approaches to managing solid waste and it is crucial that current regulations be modernized to enable us, along with the County Sanitation Districts and other key stakeholders, to work with conversion technology companies to identify necessary regulatory changes to allow facilities to flourish in California while meeting the state’s strict environmental standards,” Farber said.