GM to Incorporate Waste-to-Energy Power at Detroit Facility

steam-power-waste-energyIn a move to reduce fossil fuel generation and improve energy efficiency, General Motors has requested the help of a local waste-to-energy (WTE) facility in Detroit. Once all the pieces are in place, the renewable energy company will transfer steam to power one of the General Motors facilities by mid-2014.

Detroit Renewable Energy LLC (DRE) will assemble a pipe that extends nearly 1.6 miles from its own facility to the GM Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant to supply heating, cooling, and energy to power compressors used for assembly and paint drying. The coal-fired boilers currently used to power the compressors will be taken off line.

Crain’s Detroit Business reports that Rick Pucak, president of DRE subsidiaries Detroit Thermal LLC and Hamtramck Energy Services LLC, said negotiations between GM and DRE have been ongoing for the last two years, and believes the steam pipe could be fully functional by early summer 2014. When completed, DRE will supply 15.8 megawatts of energy for the plant.

Rob Threlkeld, GM’s Global Manager of Renewable Energy, spoke of GM’s accomplishments through waste-to-energy facilities worldwide following the announcement. He stated, “We have 107 landfill-free facilities across the globe that recycle or reuse their waste, with some of it turned into energy. It made sense to explore this option with DRE at Detroit-Hamtramck, given their quality work in helping us manage our energy use at some of our other GM plants.”

The steam energy, when combined with other renewable energy initiatives at the Detroit-Hamtramck facility, will allow GM to create 58 percent of its energy from renewable sources at the facility. Large production facilities like auto manufacturers can offset energy costs in a number of ways. Facility upgrades, demand response programs and other energy management strategies can be employed to save (or even make) money for a company.

WTE facilities work by burning recycled waste in large hoppers, which generate steam, ash, and flue gases. The ash is collected and trucked to the nearest landfill, the flue gases are filtered and eventually released into the atmosphere, and the steam is collected to generate electricity through a steam-powered turbine (or in this case, sent from Detroit Renewable Energy to GM to run the steam-powered compressors). A general layout of a waste-to-energy facility is pictured below:

Pollution Sys_v01

The waste-to-energy industry is extremely popular in northern Europe, especially in Oslo, Norway where over 400 incineration facilities in the region generate a staggering fifty percent of all residential heat and energy needs for its citizens. In fact, the recycled garbage burned in the facilities is actually considered a competitive trade commodity in Norway. Norwegians don’t produce enough garbage on their own to meet demands, so countries like England, Ireland, and Sweden export garbage to Norway to keep the lights on (literally).

Despite the substantial interest in WTE facilities overseas, many U.S. companies are skittish to embrace the technology. Of the 89 waste-to-energy locations throughout the United States, very few (including DRE’s facility) were built within the last fifteen years. On their website, the Environmental Protection Agency states “economic factors have limited new construction” of waste-to-energy development, along with environmental concerns dealing with hazardous ash or unhealthy air emissions derived from the burning process. Factors like utility areas, environmental restrictions and other restrictions can limit energy management techniques businesses employ.

WTE facilities in the U.S. are quick to refute that claim, since they all must comply with EPA air-regulation standards – and are regularly tested without incident. “The emphasis on air pollution control equipment today and efficient recovery of the energy that’s in your waste really has made [WTE] a remarkable source of renewable power,” stated Paul Gilman, chief sustainability officer of Virginia-based WTE company Covanta, to CBN News in June 2013.

Where do you stand on the debate concerning waste-to-energy facilities? Let us know in the comment section below.

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  • http://www.innovativeelectric.ca Annie Craven

    Thanks for sharing! This is a very interesting way of dealing with the massive amounts of garbage that the population accumulates. The environmental effects will always be an ongoing issue but in the mean time we put it in the ground anyways so why not take the opportunity to use it in a purposeful way.

  • Kristopher Settle

    Thanks for the feedback Annie! I’m pretty much 100% behind where you stand…Norway does an amazing job of minimizing the space needed for landfills through W2E facilities and the US could definitely take a page out of their book.

    My biggest issue is with the environmental issues like you mentioned..and whether the ash and airborne chemicals that result from burning the garbage can be properly contained before returning to the atmosphere. One big difference between US garbage and Norwegian garbage (and most European garbage, honestly) is their commitment from the public and gov’t to diligently sort their waste. A lot of American garbage isn’t sorted well…and maybe with a more concentrated effort, W2E facilities could prosper in the US if they could isolate the ‘best’ garbage to burn. I suppose time will tell, but I’d agree that more of these facilities in the US would be considerably more efficient. Thanks again!