If you’ve attended any industry event in the past, you’ve seen waste conversion technology providers stand up in front of a crowd and talk about projects that are in various phases of development and implementation. You can try to envision the project’s footprint and process based on PowerPoint slides, but it doesn’t truly give you a sense of scale and function. The Renewable Energy from Waste Conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., provided a unique opportunity for its attendees to see for themselves facilities that are converting waste into energy and fuel.
I was one of the group of about 20 attendees who toured the Ineos Indian River County BioEnergy Center in Vero Beach, Fla., about 70 miles north of West Palm Beach. I had heard so much about this facility over the past year as it opened and began production of commercial-scale bioethanol, but visiting the site gave me a whole new perspective. It convinced me turning waste into ethanol truly is possible.
While the actual ethanol production was housed in tanks that we were only able to see from the exterior, what we did see was the control room where temperature and production rates are closely monitored. We also saw the lab where the special micro-organism that makes Ineos’ patented fermentation process possible is stored. Several stockpiles of the vegetative and wood waste used as feedstock in the process also were visible. Dan Cummings, Ineos business manager, led the tour and did a fantastic job at answering question after question the curious tour group raised. One compelling statistic he gave: the system can produce 85 gallons of ethanol per ton of organic waste. Pretty impressive if you ask me.
The $130-million facility also is a testament to the economic impact a facility can have on a small community like Vero Beach. The facility has 65 full-time employees, and during the facility’s development more than 400 direct construction, engineering and manufacturing jobs were created.
It was very special to be one of the first groups to tour the facility. I don’t think I was alone in coming away from that tour thinking it was a successful example of commercial-scale waste conversion technology. As with most start-ups, however, Ineos BioEnergy Center has not been without its hiccups. In December 2013, the facility’s site director, David King, reported, “Ineos Bio’s Vero Beach facility has made significant operational progress, and we are steadily moving towards stable operations in 2014 with a focus on improving performance metrics throughout next year.” He added, “Bringing the facility online and up to capacity has taken longer than planned due to several unexpected start-up issues at the center. These efforts have highlighted some needed modifications and upgrades.”
I know we are all rooting for Ineos and hope its early success in Vero Beach will pave the way for more facilities to be built in North America.