City of Cleveland embraces company’s plans to build tire and plastic-burning …
Vadxx Energy intends to build a 10,000-square-foot facility near the intersection of St. Clair Avenue and East 79th Street, where the company will burn as many as 60 tons a day of plastic and rubber waste, the company's Chief Executive Officer Jim Garrett told City Council members at a Community and Economic Development Committee meeting Tuesday.
Until now, the company has been burning about three tons of the material per day in its Akron plant, Garrett said. But demand for the byproduct -- a synthetic form of crude oil that can be refined into gasoline or diesel fuel -- is on the rise, he said. And the Cleveland plant, which will cost the company between $12 and $20 million to build, will be the first step in what could be a global expansion for Vadxx.
The plan includes building a new office on Euclid Avenue to house 10 of the company's executives, engineers and other support staff. Seventeen new jobs will be created for machine operators and technicians at the plant.
Garrett briefed council as a courtesy, though his plan does not require council approval or taxpayer dollars.
Cleveland Economic Development Director Tracey Nichols told council that securing the Vadxx headquarters in the city could eventually mean more than a hundred new jobs as the company grows.
But council members expressed anxiety about the technology's similarities to an earlier plan to build a trash-to-electricity plant in the city. Under that model, compressed trash pellets would be burned to generate electricity for city-owned Cleveland Public Power.
The concept suffered a beating from environmentalists and some City Council members concerned about pollution. During a public comment period on the permit application, residents sounded alarms about potentially harmful air emissions, including lead and mercury, among other toxic elements.
In April, Mayor Frank Jackson opened the door to other ideas. And a consulting firm was hired to review a variety of technologies, including composting and recycling, as sustainable alternatives to dispatching 230,000 tons of trash to Ohio landfills every year. The options are still under review.
Garrett and Marc Krantz, an attorney representing Vadxx, said the company's technology is vastly different from the city's proposal.
The company's underlying process, called pyrolysis, heats the shredded material in an airtight crucible, reducing it to crude oil, char and a combustible gas, which is recycled and burned to continue fueling the process, according to Krantz. The company is picky about what kinds of materials enter the chamber, and the tires, plastics and medical waste are sterilized before they are burned, Krantz said.
The city's proposed process, called gasification, uses a controlled amount of oxygen to reduce trash pellets into ash, then burns the gaseous byproduct to power a turbine and generate electricity. The city would feed the gasifier municipal trash, which would be pre-sorted to remove harmful substances. The U.S. EPA declared that the technology amounts to an incinerator -- a major polluter that must be regulated under strict federal guidelines.
Krantz said the Ohio EPA considers Vadxx's system a minor contributor to pollution. The exhaust is clear and odor-free, and the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from its 25 to 40-foot high smokestack will be equivalent to about 800 cars on the road, he said.
Neil Seldman, president of the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Local Self Reliance, said in an interview Tuesday that the pyrolysis and gasification technologies are equally harmful to the environment.
"It is the exact same bill of goods," Seldman said. "Burning tires emits toxic chemicals. Plastics are toxic, medical waste is toxic. They are trying to gasify toxic materials."
Vadxx already has acquired the necessary permit through the Cleveland Division of Air Quality Control, a city office that acts as the local branch of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Garrett said he hopes to break ground soon and have the facility running by mid-2014.
But Councilman Jeffrey Johnson, who represents the area where the site is located, requested that the company participate in a community meeting to explain the technology to residents. The company agreed.
"If I sign off on something that they view as the worst thing in the world, then I'm going to catch flak," Johnson said. "Even if I turn blue in the face explaining that it's not gasification."