They’re like prospectors heading to the Yukon during the gold rush. They have a far away look in their eyes and a slight smile as they think about the possibilities. Who am I talking about? The representatives of certain companies that possess “new and emerging technologies” for the management of municipal solid waste. Their prize, should they succeed, is the biggest waste contract in Canada. The City of Toronto is managing a selection process that could generate gold for the winners.
Toronto has set the ambitious goal of diverting 100 percent of municipal solid waste from landfill by 2010. The aim is to divert 60 percent through source separation (curbside recycling, composting, etc.) and find innovative technologies to handle the remaining 40 per cent.
In May 2003, the city issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (REOI) for new and emerging solid waste management technologies. City staff received 51 proposals in response. One of the main purposes of the REOI was to identify potential vendors of new and emerging technologies as well as proven (i.e., commercial scale) technologies.
Of the 51 submissions, 27 were from Canadian companies, 14 from U.S.-based firms and nine were from Europe. A great majority (30) of the submissions fall into the “thermal treatment” category, with the others categories representing biological (12), physical (5) and chemical/other (4).
At this point the city will not name who are the leading contenders. Of the ones I’ve seen, at first blush the Herhof in-vessel composting and waste diversion technology, with commercial-scale operations in Dresden, Germany and Venice, Italy is among the most interesting. The Arrow Bio technology from Israel (mentioned during the recent election campaign by newly-elected mayor David Miller) is also interesting as is the Enwave proposal that involves a cogeneration system based on syngas from gasification.
Who will win? I don’t know. However, in my view, the winning bidder will succeed to by focusing on the “four C’s” — cost, capability, commercial application, and controversy.
Cost is a key issue. Toronto currently pays $52 per tonne for long-distance hauling and landfilling in Michigan. The city collects the material at curbside and transfers it, for a total system cost (including disposal) between $125 and $127 per tonne. Toronto’s recycling program is somewhat higher, estimated at approximately $133 per tonne. To be in the running, a vendor needs to have a technology somewhere within this range.
In 2003 Toronto will generate about 1.15 million tonnes of residential garbage, plus another 150,000 tonnes of watery sewage treatment plant waste, requiring disposal. The city’s REOI called for a capability to treat between 5,000 and 400,000 tonnes per year. Ten companies responding to the REOI stated they could handle greater than 400,000 tonnes per year.
Also, a process that diverts 100 percent of the incoming stream from landfill will likely be favored. Diversion potential from the REOI respondents ranged from 50 to 100 percent.
It certainly helps when your “new and emerging technology” has commercial operations in other jurisdictions. Of the 51 responses to the city, 13 already have commercial facilities operating in the biological category, eight in the physical category, and 23 in the thermal category.
Any technology not perceived to be friendly to the environment is likely to attract opposition. The vendor has to steer through the many potential pitfalls of municipal politics and possibly a provincial environmental assessment process before being accepted.
The city plans issuing a Request for Qualifications (RFQL) in the new year for all companies that think they can handle the problem. The RFQL will require the vendors to demonstrate that they are technically qualified, have operational capability and are in good financial shape. The RFQL is not a proposal call; that will come following the evaluation of the RFQL. The vendors that pass the RFQL will be issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a “pilot plant” to process between 5,000 to 25,000 tonnes per year. (One problem with this approach is that certain technologies that are viable at 400,000 tonnes may not be viable at 25,000 tonnes, but does serve to get around an Environmental Assessment process to determine if the technology will work.
The race to be the technology of choice to manage the City of Toronto’s garbage could be compared to running the steeplechase. The eventual winner will feel like they’ve struck gold. The losers will have to mine elsewhere. In future columns, I’ll examine some of the more interesting technologies.
John Nicholson is a management consultant with Environmental Business consultants based in Toronto, Ontario. E-mail John at email@example.com