SURREY — Rob Costanzo pointed to a massive pile of compost inside the Surrey Biofuel Facility.
“This was all leftovers on a dinner plate,” he said, picking up a handful while giving the Now-Leader an exclusive tour of the Port Kells facility in January.
The manager of the biofuel project, which opens today, said making the vision a reality has been no small feat.
“It’s a euphoric feeling,” said Costanzo.
“We’re really fortunate… this project would not have been possible without the support of council. Projects like this are always tricky because they’re leading edge, but someone has to grab the bull by the horns and be the first to lead the project. It’s not for the faint of heart.
“It’s really quite impressive,” he elaborated. “It’s a neat-looking facility. That story in terms of what we’re doing with the waste really resonates with people we speak to. We’re very proud.”
Costanzo described the project as a “milestone” in municipal waste management.
“What we’re doing here in Surrey is taking waste from curb side, organic waste, and converting that waste into renewable natural gas, and that gas is going to be used to fuel the garbage trucks that collect the waste at curb side, creating that closed loop system.”
Costanzo said it’s the first true “closed-loop” system in North America.
“We’re also going to be producing compost material,” he added.
“That material will be sold to local food growers who are going to grow fruits and vegetables that will end up back on the dinner plate, eventually will end up back in the compost bin collected at curb side, and brought back to this facility to start the process all over again,” said Costanzo.
“This facility is a real poster child for the circular economy. We’re immensely proud of our accomplishments.”
And, Costanzo added proudly that the facility is not going to cost the Surrey taxpayer one dime.
“This facility is being delivered without having to increase municipal taxes,” he said.
“The 2017 solid waste levy was $287 per household and remains at $287 in 2018.”
The facility is located on city-owned property, but was designed, financed and will be operated under a 25-year partnership agreement with a UK-based company, Renewi.
The facility cost approximately $68 million, with the federal government contributing 25 per cent ($16.9 million) and Renewi footing the remainder of the bill.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said the facility has “established a new sustainability benchmark in Canada with a world-class facility that converts organic waste into renewable energy.”
She noted it will be “instrumental in reducing community-wide greenhouse gas by approximately 49,000 tonnes per year, which is the equivalent of taking over 10,000 cars off the road annually.”
“This reduction in greenhouse emissions will completely eliminate the City of Surrey corporate carbon foot print of 17,000 tonnes per year,” Hepner said, noting that includes emissions from civic buildings and the city’s fleet.
“The biofuel facility will also be a destination for school groups to come visit and learn how organic waste is turned into renewable gas and nutrient rich compost,” she added.
“That is why we have included a learning centre and compost garden as part of the original vision for this project.”
Surrey’s waste diversion history
In the past 10 years, the City of Surrey reports a jump in waste diversion from 38 to 70 per cent.
In 2007, the City of Surrey’s curb side collection program was picking up waste from roughly 90,000 households and delivering 69,000 tonnes of garbage a year to the landfill, with about 43,000 tonnes of organic waste and recycling being diverted from the dump.
Fast forward to 2017 and despite picking up waste from more households a year (104,000), only 42,000 tonnes of garbage ended up at the landfill, and 99,000 organic waste and recyclables were diverted.
The city launched its new “Rethink Waste” program in late 2012, which is the three-bin system that exists today. It means garbage is picked up less frequently, only once every two weeks, but organic waste and recycling is picked up more often.
“That’s when we went up to 70 per cent literally overnight,” said Costanzo. “The response was significant.”
Now, with the biofuel facility officially in operation, the city can do even better, he said. “Once we start using the renewable natural gas produced at our biofuel facility, we will be 100 per cent cleaner than diesel and the first municipality in North America to be running a 100 per cent carbon neutral municipal waste collection fleet.”
The site will also help regionally, noted Costanzo.
“We’re generating more organic waste than we actually have processing capacity for (in Metro Vancouver),” he said. “As we ramp up with more sectors being required to divert their organic waste, a number of municipalities are having to truck it a far distance outside of the region…. (The biofuel site) will provide some much-needed relief.”
Costanzo said the Surrey site will be able to process 115,000 tonnes of organic waste a year, and the city only collects about 65,000, meaning it could take organic waste from other areas in the region.
“But as we continue to grow, we’ll have that capacity reserved for the city, displacing other entities,” he noted.
Estimates suggest Surrey will be closer to 90,000 metric tonnes by 2043, when the 25-year partnership with Renewi is set to end.
“What I predict is this facility really sets the bar high and others will follow suit,” he mused. “We’re gaining a lot of interest from municipalities from just about everywhere.”
While the renewable natural gas produced at the biofuel facility will be used to fuel garbage trucks, there will be some left over, Costanzo explained. The city uses about 80,000 gigajoules of gas for its garbage trucks and municipal fleet, and the biofuel facility is expected to produce about 120,000.
“Excess gas we may use in some of our civic buildings, in the district energy system on an interim basis, but as we continue to grow our fleet, we will utilize more gas in our fleet. That’s where you get the biggest bang for your buck – using it to replace gas or diesel… The cost of this gas is significantly lower.” Any gas that’s not used will be sold back to Fortis BC, he noted, “which is straight revenue.”
Biofuel won’t cause a stink, city says
But what about the smell?
While several local compost plants in the region have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons lately, Surrey vows its biofuel facility won’t cause a stink.
Costanzo says that every effort has gone into ensuring Surrey’s facility doesn’t emit foul odours.
“It was paramount. This facility, we would not go forward with it unless we had world-class technology to deal with odour,” he said, noting the site is located immediately adjacent to other properties. “Standing outside, you can’t smell what’s happening inside.”
The technology keeps the facility under continuous negative air pressure, 24/7.
“This means that the air is being continuously drawn into the facility. The only emission coming out of the facility is warm air water vapour coming out of the 70 metre stack,” Costanzo said.
“All the air within the facility is channeled though an ammonia scrubber which significantly reduces odours. The air is then cooled and humidified before it’s forced through a series of wood chip biofilters where remaining offensive odours are removed.”
A final “sniff test” is done on the roof.
Renewi, which will be operating the Surrey Biofuel Facility, has 10 other sites across the globe.
“This state-of-the-art facility shows exactly how we’ve been able to use our international experience and innovation to create the largest integrated waste management facility in North America,” said James Priestly, managing director of Renewi’s municipal division.
“The facility brings our ‘waste no more’ vision to life… It is this waste-to-product approach which we are very passionate about and I’m delighted to see it coming to life here, at this flagship facility in Surrey.”
The Surrey Biofuel is located at 9752 192nd St., next to the Surrey Transfer Station.
See more about the facility surreybiofuel.ca.
Click here to learn more about odour abatement at the site.
How does it all work?
Once organic waste arrives at the facility it will enter “anaerobic digestion (AD) tunnels” that are sealed shut with airtight doors.
Oxygen is removed from the tunnels and purged with CO2.
The waste is then sprayed with a bacteria-rich “leachate” (liquids recovered from the curbside organic waste) and the AD process starts, which takes about 30 days.
AD is process where microorganisms that thrive in zero oxygen environments break down organic matter producing raw biogas.
That biogas is compressed and fed into a “scrubber,” where it’s showered with water which captures the methane and washes out impurities. Methane not captured is “flashed off’ in a flash tank and recovered.
Water from the flash tank is pumped into a stripper where CO2 is separated from the H2O.
The water circulates back to be reused in the scrubber and the CO2 is recovered for use back in the AD tunnels to help with the initial raw biogas production.
The finished clean biogas is then dried and injected into the Fortis BC natural gas grid.
After 30 days of sitting in the AD tunnels producing biogas, the waste material is moved to composting tunnels where oxygen is continuously pumped into the material creating an “aerobic” process.
A different set of microorganisms eat the organic waste, breaking it down into its simplest components.
The finished compost they produce is rich with fibre and inorganic nutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen, and it makes a natural fertilizer.
This process takes another 20 days or so.
The finished compost is screened to remove contaminants and the final product is transported off-site where it’s packaged as fertilizer or blended with other materials.
City of Surrey