San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Country Considers Garbage-Fueled Generators

A 100-hectare landfill in Liberia, the capital of thenorthwestern province of Guanacaste, may soon bereduced by 85% after the installation of a machine itspromoters say converts garbage into electricity.The machine is promoted by a company calledEnvironmental Power International (EnPower), aU.S. company based in Ardmore, Oklahoma.EnPower has claimed the project would not costthe Municipality of Liberia a penny and would allowreforestation of all but 15% of the landfill.The remaining area, according to EnPower representatives,would be necessary for the machine andfor garbage that can be neither recycled nor convertedinto energy.Liberia Mayor Ricardo Samper told The TicoTimes that thus far he likes the idea very much, andmembers of the Municipal Council are “very optimistic.”SAMPER said the plant – touted as being capableof processing 180 tons of garbage per day – wouldproduce 100 jobs for area residents, though he did notspecify whether those would be permanent positionsat the plant. He also said the company offered to providebus service for those workers.Guillermo Baltodano, chairman of Liberia’sMunicipal Council, said EnPower representativeshave not yet specified exactly how the machine wouldfunction or whether incineration would be involved inthe process.“From a technical point of view, I can’t tell youmuch,” Baltodano said. “I can tell you we are initiallyvery interested in the project.”Baltodano said the EnPower personnel he hadspoken to, who made a proposal before Liberia’s Municipal Council on April 17, said themachine would require the use of a yet-to be-determined amount of water.He said the company promised thecouncil that the water used would be treatedand returned to the environment “in bettercondition than when it was extracted.”BALTODANO said the municipalitywould be looking at that issue closely, particularlybecause Guanacaste, the driestregion in the country, often faces watershortages during the dry season.But, he added, “At this moment, Liberiadoesn’t have a huge problem with water.”EnPower would profit from the ventureby selling the electricity produced by theplant, though it was not immediately clearhow much electricity the plant would beable to produce. The municipality’s onlyresponsibility, Baltodano said, would be tocontinue collecting the area’s garbage.THE Municipality of Limón, a porttown on the Caribbean coast, is also consideringinstalling one of EnPower’s machines,according to Samper and what appears to bethe first page of a contract between EnPowerand the Limón municipality, faxed to TheTico Times by the Liberia Municipality.However, Limón Mayor Roger Riveradid not respond to multiple phone messagesrequesting interviews or a faxedrequest for information about the proposal.Representatives from the Limónmunicipality said only the mayor would beable to comment on the project.ENPOWER communications representativeEdwin Dobner, operating out ofCalifornia, told The Tico Times both projectsare still in the “development process.”“We’re still in the evaluation stage inCosta Rica,” Dobner said. “We’re relativelytight-lipped right now.”Dobner said he was not at liberty todivulge any specific information regardinghow the machines work, but he did say itwas “off-the-shelf technology.”Dobner declined to comment regardingthe Oklahoma-based company’s history,except to say in a statement that the“EnPower management staff has decadesof experience in the energy industry, internationalenergy projects, plant engineering,design, construction and management,energy legislation and international waste to-energy development.”HE also declined to provide detailsregarding other projects EnPower representativesreportedly told the Liberia citycouncil the company was actively workingon in California.He said he would have to discuss thoseitems with his management before commenting.He added that EnPower is “a very, verysolid thing.”EnPower Managing Director KenRoblyer was out of the office and could notbe reached for comment by press time,though The Tico Times requested interviewswith him several times through thecompany’s headquarters.THE Costa Rican government isentertaining a similar trash-to-electricityproposal from a company calledEurotechnology, which, according tosources in the Legislative Assembly,would involve a machine that only existsin a prototype.Legislative sources told The TicoTimes that government officials are workingwith the Italian business, which proposeduse of the machines in Costa Rica toPresident Abel Pacheco during his trip toEurope earlier this year.Milton Clark, a representative ofEurotechnology and an advisor to the governmenton the project, called the proposal“a huge project with huge implications.”THE machine the President was shown– by means of a video with an interpreterpresent – uses a new chemical process toconvert garbage into electricity, Clark said.Costa Rica would be the first countryin the world to employ the new technology,he added.The machines would cost $1 millionper ton of garbage they are able to processper day, and would be able to produce onekilowatt of electricity for every kilogramof garbage processed, Clark said.He said the machines emit no smoke,and the only by-products would be recyclablemetals and a waste compound thatcan be used as fertilizer, Clark said.“THAT means you can put it rightsmack in the middle of New York City andno one would notice,” he said. “It’s quite amachine.”Clark said the project is in the feasibilitystage and no concrete plans have been made.Until the government can obtain morefunding for the project, he said, not muchprogress will be made.“We’ve gone as far as we can given themoney we have,” he said.The original plan, he said, was toinstall one machine in Guanacaste, butPresident Pacheco asked to see if it wouldbe possible to put one in Limón, as well.Liberia council member Baltodano saidEurotechnology is attempting to convincethe Guanacaste League of Municipalitiesto form a business and then buy one of themachines. He said he was somewhat skepticalabout the proposal.“We know about experiences we’vehad in many cases,” Baltodano said.THE projects being proposed byEnPower and Eurotechnology appear to becompletely distinct. At press time, it wasnot clear whether Pacheco’s administrationis aware that the municipalities of Liberiaand Limón are negotiating with EnPower.Dr. Richard L. Bein, who works in thermo-chemical conversion research at the U.S.National Renewable Energy Laboratory,said he is only aware of three main processes,aside from methane extraction, used toconvert garbage into fuel.One is burning.The second, he said, is a processcalled thermal gasification. That processinvolves taking solid waste and convertingit into a combustible gas compoundincluding carbon, hydrogen and contaminants,Bein said.It is then possible to “clean up” thosecombustible gases before burning them,which is “easier, more efficient, but moreexpensive” than incinerators, he said.“What you’re trading off is cost versusemissions, which is the main thing peopleworry about,” Bein said.The third process is fermentation of theorganic components of what he calledMSW – municipal sold waste. He said byadding enzymes to the organic matter itcan ferment to produce ethanol – a highlycombustible compound.“It’s kind of like putting yeast intobeer,” he said. “It eats up the sugars andmakes ethanol.”THE concept of using waste to produceelectricity is not new. Machines convertingmethane gas produced by garbageor waste from livestock are in use inDenmark, India, the United States, thePhilippines, Germany and a host of othercountries.Machines incinerating garbage to produceelectricity are also in use throughoutEurope, Bein said.

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