In a converted corn ethanol plant 25 minutes from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, four-story tanks of renewable fuel quietly bubble, ready for conversion to fuel-grade ethanol. What makes this fuel special is its main ingredient. Instead of corn, Catonsville, Md.-based Fiberight LLC has found a way to turn one company's organic waste into valuable renewable fuel.
"Everyone from the average household to large industrial manufacturers is focused on reducing waste," says Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul. "But the reality is that there will always be a significant waste stream in this country. What's unique about our approach is that we can take that waste and turn it into billions of gallons of fuel to spur the nation's energy independence while at the same time reducing carbon emissions by more than 80 percent compared with gasoline."
International Paper, Memphis, is doing its part. The large packaging and paper producer ships organic fiber waste from its Cedar River, Iowa, recycled-paper mill to the Fiberight site in Blairstown, Iowa, for fuel conversion. The paper mill produces a million tons per year of recycled paper for corrugated packaging, made from old corrugated containers, of which about 95 percent is recycled into new paper The remaining unusable fiber had gone into the mill's waste stream, adding about 50,000 tons annually to the company's residual fiber waste. Previously, the residual fiber went to local agricultural companies for fertilizer, animal bedding and other land applications at a cost to International Paper.
"When Fiberight approached us in late 2008 with their idea for using our residual fiber to process renewable energy, we saw this as a potential win-win for both companies," says Tom Olstad, the Cedar River mill's operations manager.
The residual fiber waste provides good base-load feedstock for the biorefinery. In addition, Fiberight soon plans to introduce pulps made from residential trash to the plant. The company has spent the last six years designing processes to separate organic pulp from everyday waste, creating more recyclables and energy from other parts of the waste stream along the way.
"You can't just back up a trash truck to a corn ethanol plant and expect fuel to come out the other end," says Stuart-Paul. "We undertook extensive modifications to the plant to incorporate our proprietary digestion and fermentation techniques, as well as processes to help convert organic pulps into cellulosic sugars."
Fiberight expects to spend approximately $25 million to fully convert the Blairstown plant to produce up to six million gallons a year of renewable cellulosic ethanol when the plant reaches capacity sometime in 2011.