2011 Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science™ Awards Competition Winner

E3S Honor Award

Honor Award - Environmental Sustainability

Catawba County EcoComplex and Resource Recovery Facility Program

Entrant: CDM and Catawba County
Engineer in Charge: Joseph Wiseman, P.E., BCEE
Location: Newton, North Carolina
Media Contact: Marlene Hobel


Entrant Profile

CDM partnered with Catawba County to create the Catawba County Regional EcoComplex and Resource Recovery Facility program. Evolving from a study that considered alternatives for processing wastewater biosolids, the team developed the program to maximize natural resources and economic benefits. CDM designed and is in the process of designing several elements of the EcoComplex, including the biosolids processing facility, the biodiesel research facility and the wood gasification energy facility. In addition, the firm continues to advise the county regarding the exchange of resources within the EcoComplex. CDM is a consulting, engineering, construction and operations firm delivering exceptional service to public and private clients worldwide.

Catawba County, North Carolina, is the owner of the EcoComplex program. With hopes of becoming a leader of the green economy, the county has been committed to sustainability for years. Since 1999, the county has been collecting and combusting landfill gas, creating approximately 3 megawatts of electricity that is sold to the local utility grid to help power 1,500 area homes. This concept of making use of a previously wasted resource is the foundation of the EcoComplex program. Catawba County drives the program by creating partnerships with private businesses and universities. With an aggressive goal of achieving zero waste, the county is in continuous pursuit of potential relationships that will protect the environment and boost the county's economy.

Project Description

What do a wastewater treatment plant, landfill, biosolids processing facility, university, wood gasification energy facility and lumber processing company have in common? These components are part of a unique EcoComplex in Catawba County, North Carolina, where partners are teaming to reuse each other's waste products-either as an energy source or raw material to produce their own products.

Striving to be a leader in the green economy, Catawba County is building relationships between sectors to redefine the concept of "reduce, reuse, recycle." Driven by a vision of zero waste, the county has partnered with CDM to develop the Catawba County Regional EcoComplex and Resource Recovery Facility program, a multi-phased effort designed to recover resources, maximize renewable energy and stimulate economic development.

Described by the Alliance for Innovation as a "quantum leap of creativity," the EcoComplex is a modern, green industrial park adjacent to the Blackburn landfill. Geographic proximity allows each element to benefit from another's waste. This approach to making the best use of the planet's limited natural resources to benefit the environment, economy and community, is the heart of the EcoComplex program.

Integrated Approach

EcoComplex's collective approach optimizes beneficial reuse for environmental, economic and social benefits. Based on applied industrial ecology, referred to as industrial symbiosis, the system recovers all useable products and byproducts from EcoComplex partners and exchanges them to eliminate waste, protect the environment, produce renewable energy and contribute to economic development.

Innovative biosolids processing uses renewable energy and produces valuable resource. CDM is designing a biosolids processing facility at the EcoComplex that will dry biosolids from 10 local wastewater treatment plants with waste heat recovered from engines that convert landfill gas into electricity, taking advantage of a previously unused resource. The product will become fertilizer for various agricultural needs, including biofuel crops grown on the property that will fuel landfill vehicles.

Quality

Biosolids processing facility will augment electricity sales to local utility grid, supporting landfill management costs and reducing customer fees. Since 1999, the county has been collecting and combusting landfill gas to create approximately 3 megawatts of electricity that is sold to the grid to power approximately 1,500 homes. In the future, liquid waste from the biosolids drying process will be injected back into the landfill to enhance waste decomposition and generate additional electricity, increasing sales and the number of homes powered by renewable energy.

Alternative to composting will meet area's needs for 20 years. The biosolids processing facility will replace the county's aged composting facility that required costly upgrades, sustainably addressing the area's wastewater biosolids management needs.

Public-private collaboration creates opportunities to generate energy while supporting the economy. The county is teaming with a lumber processing company and pallet manufacturer collocated at the EcoComplex, to produce new pallets and create energy from wood waste. A brick production company may also join the development, taking advantage of waste streams to produce art and specialty brick shapes while providing community classroom space.

Originality and Innovation

Wood gasification energy facility sets a national precedent. Currently being designed, this facility will be the first of its kind in the United States and will be two to three times as efficient as conventional combined heat and power technology. It will use wood waste to generate electricity for EcoComplex partners, and harness heat and steam energy to dry lumber and wastewater biosolids.

3D/4D technology enabled creativity, sustainability and efficiency. Employing 3D/4D technology, CDM designed Appalachian State University's 7,000-square-foot biodiesel research facility to LEED® Silver standards, underscoring to the EcoComplex program's commitment to the environment. Real-time capabilities expedited design completion.

Local and national recognition positions EcoComplex as a pioneer in applied industrial ecology. CNN recently featured the EcoComplex in "Zero Waste Equals Big Money," emphasizing the county's ingenuity and progressiveness. The program has also received several awards, including the Alliance for Innovation's Thomas H. Muehlenbeck Award for Excellence in Local Government. These endorsements have established the EcoComplex as a model for other municipalities and companies interested in implementing similar sustainable practices.

Complexity

Goal of zero waste sets industry standard. Careful planning and the development of a complicated network of synergistic relationships enable the recovery of all usable resources to meet the county's aggressive goal of achieving zero waste.

Extensive collaboration increases opportunities to reuse waste and create renewable energy, supporting the mission of the EcoComplex. The success of the EcoComplex program depends on the coordination of more than a dozen contributors, including public facilities, private companies and university researchers. Potential future partners include a greenhouse, a recycled plastic pelletization plant and anaerobic digester facilities that will process wastewater and food waste into biogas to create electricity.

Social or Economic Advancement

Partnerships with six universities in the state facilitate valuable research and education. Appalachian State University is using biodiesel crops grown in an otherwise unused buffer area on the landfill site and recovered heat from landfill gas engine generators to determine the optimal biodiesel production methods and mixes for making the best fuel-some of which is supplied back to the county to help run landfill equipment. University of North Carolina at Charlotte students and faculty are using the EcoComplex's biodiesel crops and woody byproducts to test and create ethanol; they are also researching algae to create biofuel.

EcoComplex enables waste collection services to be delivered economically. By generating electricity and heat from renewable sources, the county can control solid waste management costs, reducing waste collection customers' delivery charges.

Biosolids processing facility will produce long-term cost savings. The current biosolids composting facility is near maximum capacity. Replacing it with a facility that recovers waste heat from the landfill and produces a reusable product is good for the environment, eliminates the need for costly upgrades and reduces costs associated with operating the composting facility.

Green energy will attract businesses to the EcoComplex, bringing jobs to the county. The wood gasification energy facility will draw companies looking for a green power source-enhancing the EcoComplex's economic benefits.


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E3S Photos

Program recovers resources and maximizes renewable energy. The Catawba County Regional EcoComplex Resource Recovery Facility includes several existing and future elements, such as a landfill, a biosolids processing facility, biodiesel research center, and wood gasification energy facility. Geographic proximity allows partners to use each other's waste products-either as an energy source or raw material to produce their own products.

E3S Photos

EcoComplex makes the best use of the planet's natural resources. Based on applied industrial ecology-or industrial symbiosis-the system recovers useable products and byproducts from each component and exchanges them to eliminate waste, protect the environment, produce renewable energy and contribute to economic development.

E3S Photos

Biosolids processing facility will sustainably address the area's biosolids management needs for 20 years. The facility will replace the county's aging composting facility. It will also take advantage of a previously unused resource, drying biosolids from 10 local wastewater treatment plants with waste heat recovered from engines that convert landfill gas into electricity.

E3S Photos

Innovative biosolids processing will produce a valuable resource. Processed biosolids will become fertilizer for various agricultural needs, including biofuel crops grown on the EcoComplex property that will fuel landfill vehicles.

E3S Photos

Catawba County collects and combusts landfill gas, creating electricity that is sold to the local utility grid. Since 1999, approximately 1,500 homes have been powered with renewable energy produced by the EcoComplex's landfill gas-to-energy facility.

E3S Photos

Bioreactor landfill effect will increase the amount of electricity available for sale to the grid. Liquid waste from the biosolids drying process will be injected into landfill cells to enhance waste decomposition resulting in greater quantities of methane gas and amount of energy generated-reducing landfill management costs and customer fees.

E3S Photos

Biodiesel research facility enables innovation. Catawba County is partnering with Appalachian State University at this LEED®-certified biodiesel research facility. This is one of several relationships the county has to promote education and research at the EcoComplex.

E3S Photos

Research facility is used to study, create and test biodiesel. Appalachian State University students and faculty are using the EcoComplex's biodiesel crops- such as sunflowers and canola-and recovered heat from landfill gas engine generators to optimize biodiesel production. Some biodiesel will be provided to the county to help run landfill equipment.

E3S Photos

Partnership between the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Catawba County is advancing research. Students and faculty are researching algae for the creation of biofuel. They are also testing and creating ethanol using biodiesel crops and woody byproducts from the EcoComplex.

E3S Photos

Existing alliances support the mission of the EcoComplex. Gregory Wood Products lumber processing company provides wood waste to Pallet One Manufacturing to help produce new pallets. Both companies, collocated at the EcoComplex, will also supply wood waste to the wood gasification energy facility.

E3S Photos

Catawba County's collaboration with private businesses helps generate energy. The wood gasification energy facility will use waste from the lumber processing company and pallet manufacturer to generate electricity and steam heat for EcoComplex partners. The facility will more than double the amount of green electricity already generated at the EcoComplex from landfill gas.

E3S Photos

Green energy generated by the wood gasification energy facility will support the county's economy. Companies looking for a green power source, such as new cloud computing data centers, will be drawn to the EcoComplex, creating jobs and boosting industry.

E3S Photos

Replacement of police patrol cars with electric vehicles reduces fuel consumption of city fleet vehicles. In addition to fleet upgrades, further GHG emission reductions have been achieved through a concentrated 4-day, 40-hour workweek for city employees thanks to fewer commuting trips. Increased transit ridership and carpooling further reduce the city's emissions.


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