EnCAP-IT is pleased to announce that the company’s safeBERM® was mentioned in the national publication, WasteAdvantage Magazine. The article, entitled “The Benefits of an Encapsulated Mechanically Stabilized Earthen (eMSE) Berm”, was published in the October 2019 edition of WasteAdvantage Magazine.
The CEO in the corner office of any large organization has a lonely existence.
CEOs of utilities may feel even more isolated – but it’s not mandatory.
The energy industry is steadily evolving beyond fossil fuels and shifting to more renewable and sustainable sources. This is fantastic news for the planet, but before this transformation can be complete, we must address the fossil fuel legacy of nearly 2 billion tons of coal ash stored in inefficient and environmentally perilous ways all over the United States.
The buck for this state of affairs sits squarely on the desk of the utility CEO, while the pressure to provide answers pours in from all directions: political forces, environmental groups, ratepayers, internal managers, the board of directors and major investors.
Large companies usually establish methods and infrastructure with adequate manpower and resources to handle legacy CCR issues. But as new methods come to the market to deal with CCR more efficiently — yes, it happens — existing infrastructure may find itself calcified, too set in its ways. (“This is how we’ve always done it.”) Instead of being able to nimbly change course and adapt, it fractures or even collapses under the pressure.
Early CCR deposition strategies have relied on the “Cap-In-Place” method. However the science behind it, which CEOs and their teams have traditionally believed to be “the safest” is, in fact, unable to support the environmental and business risks that approach entails.
With that option now off the table, the buck flies back to the CEO whose job is to lead the way by forging a middle path that will satisfy all stakeholders going forward.
The first — and easiest — question a CEO might ask is, “Is there another one solution to fit all?”
The answer to that is easy. It’s no. (That was destroyed in the last Avengers movie.)
Without another simple strategy like good old out-of-sight-out-of-mind cap in place, the next logical area to explore is hybrid approaches.
It’s the way of today and the future to pursue multiple solutions that all contribute to the goal of proper CCR deposition.
The good news is that CEOs who can present multiple solutions to their boards, internal managers and external stakeholders dramatically increase their negotiating power and chances of success by having more than one card to play.
It seems hard to believe that groups around the country have been wrestling with this issue of what to do with legacy CCR for almost 11 years. The nation is making progress. We’ve realized that cap in place is virtually never the answer, and we’re developing alternatives. However, most of the work is yet to be done, and dealing with 2 billion tons of anything can take decades, but we have to start somewhere.
CEOs have the resources, tools and stature to jump-start any CCR deposition project by considering all their options so they can guide stakeholders toward wise decisions and action.
Next, we’ll step away from the corner office and consider the perspective of stakeholders who have been locked in CCR trench warfare for over a decade.
Let’s face it: nobody likes landfills. They’re ugly. They smell. They attract seagulls. But until we can devise methods to recycle or eliminate all residential and construction waste and coal ash, landfills have to be a fixture on our landscape for the foreseeable future.
According to the EPA, as of 2009 (the most recent statistic published), approximately 1,908 municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills were in the continental United States. When you size that up against the 3,537,438 square miles comprising this country’s land mass, their total footprint is pretty modest. But that’s cold comfort if you happen to live near a landfill.
As a consequence, communities are campaigning close their local landfills every day. Just Google “not in my backyard landfill” and you’ll come up with 2,790,000 hits.
Every time residents swing into action and win a NIMBY argument to get their nearest landfill closed, they really solve nothing. Waste will still be generated – ironically, some of it by them – and all they accomplish is to kick their cans, literally, down the road to SEBY – somebody else’s back yard. Maybe we should start calling it SEBY instead of NIMBY.
So, what’s to be done?
This is where knee-jerk reactions need to be replaced by innovative thinking. The problem of solid waste disposal belongs to everyone, not just those living near landfills who wish they were somewhere else.
Manufacturers need to find ways to reduce sold waste through more efficient packaging. The U.S. needs to encourage business to invent more ways to recycle. The U.S. recycling rate currently sits at 34.6% of total waste. This may seem acceptable, but much of the remaining recyclable material was being shipped to China – out of sight, out of mind.
Until January 2018. That’s when China began enforcing its “National Sword” policy that banned 24 types of solid waste, including plastics and unsorted mixed paper. It also set the contamination limits on what it would accept at 0.5%, which the U.S. is finding nearly impossible to meet, since many Americans think unwashed cans and bottles and greasy pizza boxes can be recycled (they can’t).
As a consequence, much of that recycling environmentally-minded people lug out to the curb is being incinerated or going to landfills – eating up precious landfill capacity that wasn’t in the original plans.
As it stands, by 2021 the U.S. will have only 15 years of landfill capacity left. In densely populated regions like the Northeast, capacity could max out in half of that time.
To compound the complexity of this issue, add a significant portion of the 2 billion cubic yards of legacy coal ash, now determined to be waste, looking for a home. It breaks the bank!
There is movement afoot. Residents of Deschutes County in Oregon want a new landfill, according to a recent survey. They looked at the cost increases of SEBY and decided it made more sense economically to take care of their own trash. So, before folks shut down their community landfill and assume their trash will be trucked to somebody else’s back yard without consequences of some kind, they should do their utmost to maximize what they have. The technology is out there. It just takes open minds willing to consider all the options.
Innovation is not an abstract concept, but a desirable mindset.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Thinking outside the box,” but how willing are you to put aside all your preconceived notions and actually do it?
True innovators make it habit. Their typical modus operandi is to view problems from every angle and brainstorm until they come up with a variety of creative solutions. They try until they hit on the combination that works best.
The methodology is in the definition of innovation provided by Oxford Dictionaries if you search online…
You get the picture. Granted, not everyone is cut out to be an innovative thinker, but it’s vital to have at least one on your solution team.
Incremental Innovation is Good, Too
Innovation doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. In fact, incremental innovation is most common; it builds on something that already exists.
safeBERM® technology is an example of incremental innovation. The methodology is leading-edge, but based on a solid foundation of simple, tried-and-true engineering principles.
Here are some recent scenarios with innovative responses to traditional dilemmas …
After two hours of evaluating a vendor’s recommendations for proper legacy CCR disposition, a utility’s conclusion was, “We don’t need to expand our on-site CCR landfill since we’ll most likely be converting our boilers to natural gas and won’t need the additional airspace.”
An innovative vendor’s response would be: “That’s the best news I’ve heard today. What you’re telling me is that there will be a larger footprint available on-site for proper legacy CCR disposition, so we don’t have to haul the CCR anywhere else. This is will save you time and money. It’s great!”
A local landfill owner worried, “We’ve having more hurricanes and flooding than we’ve ever seen before, and now we have big concerns about how protected our landfill is against these events. Is there any way we can expand it AND address the risks?”
An innovator’s response: “We build you a safeBERM® that not only increases capacity, but also uses its bidirectional hydrostatic barrier properties to safeguard the surrounding environment against flooding and hurricanes.”
A CCR “expert” expresses doubts about having enough beneficial use opportunities available to handle millions of tons of legacy CCR.
An innovator’s response: “Why stop at just one solution? Find more. How about landfills that need expansion? You can establish public-private-partnerships that can effectively handle CCR disposition while extending landfills’ useful lives. Those opportunities are out there. You just need to be open to finding them.
Everyone has a role to play in our environment. We’ve defined our role with our array of solutions. Have you?
It takes a village to solve the looming CCR storage issue.
In all discussions of coal ash disposition — either through beneficial reuse or keeping it intact but contained — the overriding concern is safety.
The cap-in-place solution has been solidly debunked from a safety standpoint. The market for beneficial use of coal ash in building products still lags far behind the over-abundance of legacy CCR. Yes, the market may eventually catch up, but leaving toxic CCR in the ground indefinitely while it waits for a new home isn’t an option.
Government regulations have necessitated more rapid and safe disposition, raising these questions for stakeholders:
- What method to use?
- How long will it take to implement?
- What will it cost?
New regulations in Virginia and North Carolina, and pending legislation in Illinois, are harbingers of what’s to come as utilities find themselves compelled by law to find innovative ways to dispose of their legacy CCR. Drying and excavation is a monumental challenge, but the challenge doesn’t stop there. Excavation results in large stockpiles that need to be properly stored. Indecision over how to proceed, or an inability to pick a middle path for all stakeholders, only compounds the problem.
When engineers in ancient Egypt cut and laid the first limestone block, they probably wondered if and when their project would ever end. But that didn’t stop them from marshalling their forces to stack block upon block for years until they finally had a pyramid.
Similarly, it’s the duty of all stakeholders in the CCR dilemma to rise up and conquer the challenges they face today, one site at a time, until no CCR is left behind.
If we take inspiration from the famous Nike slogan, “JUST DO IT,” resolutions to the most vexing problems become fairly straightforward:
“The impounded coal ash is too close to a waterway.” — MOVE IT.
“We don’t have enough land to store the impounded coal ash.” — FIND WAYS TO MAXIMIZE IT.
“We can’t beneficiate all the ash within the 15-year deadline.” — SAFELY STORE IT.
“Our on-site landfill is susceptible to hurricanes and flooding.” — SHORE IT UP.
“There’s no one solution that fits all.” — SO TACKLE IT WITH MULTIPLE SOLUTIONS.
“We don’t want to burden our ratepayers.” — FIND WAYS TO FIX IT THAT PROVIDE THE MOST BANG FOR THE BUCK.
“It costs too much to safely store this much coal ash.” — SHOW US WHY IT DOES.
Utilities have typically been less than transparent in divulging their methods and costs. Ironically, this has forced environmentalists and affected citizens to become much better educated and organized, making them potent potential allies equipped to bring new ideas to the table.
Now’s the time for everyone to come together, think together, and determine best practices for dealing with CCR in their communities. Whether it’s safe storage now to become inventory for future beneficial use, permanent on-site disposition or relocation, the answers are out there. It takes a village to find them.
Maximize Innovation Before Resorting to Traditional Methods
In 2008, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s dike containing its coal ash failed, allowing approximately 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash to spread over 300 acres and into the Emory River. Since then, the problem that coal ash represents for the U.S. has only gotten worse. Constant battles between federal and state governments, regulatory agencies, environmental groups, courts, vendors and the general public represent the inability of these stakeholders to understand how monumental this situation has become.
Since that devastating TVA spill brought the situation to front pages everywhere and other localities have dealt with their own coal ash disasters, several facts have been proven:
- CCR is a waste containing arsenic, mercury, lead and other toxic substances. It may not be officially classified as hazardous waste, but it is hazardous to the environment. That’s not something Washington, D.C., can change through legislation.
- Liquifying and pumping wet coal ash into unlined containment ponds may not pollute the air, but the moisture facilitates toxins leaching into surrounding soil and groundwater.
- Capping ponds in place is not an option if the coal ash will remain in contact with soil, which is usually the case.
- Drying and excavating coal ash ponds generates tremendous volumes of coal ash requiring proper deposition.
- Any disposition strategy must address these questions: how to dispose, where to dispose, and for how long?
- The longer the distance coal ash must be transported by road, rail or barge for off-site disposition, the greater the likelihood that it will disrupt and impede regular traffic or have a spill that creates another environmental mess to clean up.
We’re already developed various methods to tackle this challenge.
INNOVATIVE ON-SITE USES:
Microencapsulation involves recycling coal ash into other products, such as brick, block and cement. When coal ash becomes physically bonded to other ingredients, it’s rendered inert and harmless. This solution is limited only by market demand for building materials. Developing other uses for coal ash in other industries could only help to use up the existing stockpile.
Macroencapsulation offers several approaches and solutions. When coal ash is transferred on-site to a fully lined landfill, that land can be reclaimed for solar farms or sports parks that entire communities can enjoy. Another on-site option is using the coal ash as fill to create new solid waste landfills, helping communities achieve more capacity for household waste disposal by re-purposing land that’s already otherwise unusable.
INNOVATIVE OFF-SITE USES:
Macroencapsulation becomes a highly versatile solution when coal ash can be transported off-site to be used as fully encapsulated fill for solar farms, berms or other structures. Also, it can become fill around existing solid waste landfills to increase their airspace and extend their useful lives. However, the coal ash must be transported with the same risks as mentioned above, not to mention the added expense.
TRADITIONAL OFF-SITE USE:
Disposal is the last resort if all these other methods don’t pan out, with the coal ash ending up in a subtitle D compliant landfill.
Until the country weans itself completely from fossil fuel energy, coal ash will continue to be generated and legacy coal ash needs to be beneficially reused or stored properly. Now is the time to figure out the best ways to dig ourselves out from under the 500 to 600 million tons of legacy coal ash we’ve already created while building up capacity and infrastructure to implement innovative solutions for the future.
Our ultimate goal should be no coal ash left behind. Every existing pond needs to have a plan in place for its productive disposition.
K.I.S.S. Applies to Coal Ash Solutions
Imagine a community facing the dual crisis of severely dwindling solid waste disposal capacity at the same time its electric utility has been ordered by a federal judge to excavate and move a hazardous legacy coal ash pond to a lined landfill.
Unfortunately, this isn’t fantasy. Nashville, Tennessee, is one such example of a community wrestling with these issues today. The two problems may seem unrelated, but technology exists to make them part of each other’s solution if you look at the big picture and think creatively.
On the solid waste side, Tennessee’s largest landfill, Middle Point, which serves Nashville and many other localities, will run out of capacity in eight to nine years based on current daily volume, according to its owner. Outside observers believe any number of unforeseen events could increase volumes and force closure in as few as five years. Reasons include a recycling rate well below the national average and a building boom from the economic recovery that’s generating an over-abundance of waste.
One solution proposed for when the landfill closes is to truck the waste to other landfills in Kentucky and Tennessee, incurring the expense of long-distance hauling.
As for the coal ash, about 14 million cubic yards of it sit in an unlined pond at Gallatin, with potential to leach arsenic, mercury and lead into the Cumberland River. A federal judge has ordered the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to excavate the coal ash and move it to a lined landfill. Because there’s little evidence that the river has been affected so far, although groundwater issues do exist near the pond, opponents of the ruling say the excavation order is disproportionately harsh and to cap in place would be sufficient.
One innovative solution to help alleviate both problems is to move some of the coal ash to Middle Point for use as fill in macroencapsulated berms around the landfill. This would extend the landfill’s life by years and render the coal ash completely inert and harmless.
Murfreesboro and Gallatin are about 45 miles apart, so that’s how far the coal would have to travel. Solid waste would continue to go exactly where it’s always been, with no interstate hauling required.
Cost-effective remedies for TVA Gallatin’s problems are close at hand with innovative thinking. Cap in place isn’t an option; proper CCR deposition is required. So why not keep it “local” and put it to beneficial use wherever possible?
Macroencapsulation fills the judge’s requirement for a lined repository, and innovation, when applied, can solve multiple problems for all stakeholders. When the private sector works with public entities to find mutually beneficial solutions that can be implemented in the simplest and most direct ways, everybody comes out ahead.
Life Beyond: Old Dumping Grounds are Ripe for Adaptive Reuse
Communities with areas in decline have embraced the concept of adaptive reuse to restore historic buildings and reclaim their decaying or abandoned urban landscape. Such projects involve salvaging as much of the existing building material as possible and repurposing it in new ways to make the most of the “good bones” of existing structures. This is a more cost-effective approach than razing entire blocks and rebuilding from scratch.
Adaptive reuse of land is no different. Areas that have served as solid waste landfills or coal ash ponds are not doomed to spend eternity as eyesores on the landscape. In many cases, adaptive reuse can transform that land into better spaces than it was to begin with.
Nowhere stands a more amazing example of this than in Israel. The Dirt described how the Hiriya landfill, commonly known as the “Mountain of Crap,” received 25 million tons of waste over its 60-year life. Flocks of birds drawn to the garbage were causing problems for Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, and toxic runoff leached into nearby water supplies.
Hiriya closed in 1999 and began its transformation into the 2,000-acre Ariel Sharon Park, roughly three times larger than New York’s Central Park. Rainwater is now collected and filtered to irrigate plant life on the sprawling mound.
Nearby waste facilities still in operation process 90% of municipal waste, recovering metal and glass for recycling and producing bio-gas to generate electricity. In addition, methane gas recovered from still-decomposing materials within the mound generates enough electricity to run a nearby textile factory.
A man-made lake and redirected water systems created around the area now serve as buffers against flooding in South Tel Aviv and Holon. Hiriya has become a paradise for outdoors lovers, with walking and bike trails, gardens and wildlife habitats. The project’s completion is planned for 2020. TouristIsrael.com describes the site as an “ecological masterpiece.”
But Israel isn’t the only country to master adaptive land reuse. A similarly impressive example in the U.S. is Freshkills Park on Staten Island. At 2,200 acres, it’s the largest park developed in New York City in over 100 years. Amenities will include playgrounds, athletic fields, kayak launches, horseback riding trails, and large-scale art installations. It’s a work in progress, opening in phases through 2036.
Like Hiriya, Freshkills also has submerged gas wells collecting methane still being generated by the decomposing waste. It’s piped it to a power company that in turn uses it to power approximately 25,000 homes on Staten Island, generating $12 million for the city annually.
Predating both of these projects by several decades is Tifft Nature Preserve, three miles from downtown Buffalo, New York. In the 1950s and ‘60s, this 264-acre landfill accumulated nearly 2 million cubic feet of solid waste, which is now encased in clay and covered with soil. The site opened in 1972 as a nature refuge with five miles of trails and boardwalks, ponds and woodlands.
Transforming a blighted area into an oasis for people to enjoy is a wonderful outcome, but another adaptive reuse that’s growing in popularity is solar farming. Once a landfill is capped with an impermeable geomembrane, it becomes a suitable surface for solar panels, a renewable source of electricity for communities.
In North Carolina, the 48-acre Hickory Ridge Landfill had a relatively brief useful life from 1993 to 2006, but after it was capped in 2011 and covered with over 7,000 solar panels, it has essentially become an open-air power plant. Because the land wasn’t replanted, rainwater runs off the panels and down the sides of the mound, to be captured, filtered and reused.
In December 2017, the Orlando Utility Company’s Kenneth P. Ksionek Community Solar Farm brought Orlando one step closer to its goal of running on 100% renewable energy by 2050. The utility installed 20,369 of 37,544 solar panels atop concrete slabs on an 80-acre hill that’s filled with coal ash. The remaining panels sit on nearby flat land. The new $15 million solar plant generates enough electricity to power more than 1,400 homes in the area, costing less per kilowatt hour than fossil fuel, creating a win-win for the environment and the community.
These five examples show how foresight and smart adaptive reuse can ensure that no land goes to waste and that its assets can be put to use to maximize its potential for generations to come. Thrillist.com offers 11 more amazing stories of land reclamation.
The time to face the future is now. Environmental Stewardship requires innovation, forethought and a desire to look beyond immediate problems so you can see the better way of life that lies beyond the horizon and strive to achieve it.