In this podcast Nick and Brett interview Josh Bartlome, the CEO of Southern Idaho Solid Waste. Josh is in charge of a huge operation. Josh is an all around smart guy and show us a lot of unknown factors into what happens with our waste. He also shows us what they are doing to deflect the amount of waste into the landfill for recycling.
Brett Ekart (00:03):
Welcome to Recycled Idaho, where two recycling industry veterans, Brett Ekart, Nick Snyder, explore Idaho businesses and the organizations that are putting in the work to keep Idaho environmentally and economically viable at the same time.
Brett Ekart (00:19):
Take a listen to how these entrepreneurs, business owners, and operators are making things happen in the great state of Idaho.
Brett Ekart (00:27):
In this podcast, Nick and I made our way over to Burley, Idaho to sit down with Josh Bartlome and Nate Francisco of Southern Idaho Solid Waste. These two guys are making waves in the solid waste industry and they’re doing it right in Idaho. Take a listen and go check out the YouTube version of this podcast because there are some great video shot of the landfill’s daily operations.
Nick Snyder (00:48):
Right now, we’re speaking with Nate Francisco and he really specializes in the landfill gas environmental side too, I believe. Could you tell us a little bit about the landfill gas and how that works?
Nate Francisco (01:03):
Yeah, sure. So, I’m an environmental manager here and part of that… Well, what I do here is I make sure that we’re compliant with all of the regulations, environmental regulations. Part of that at the landfill is when you place garbage in a landfill, it starts to breakdown immediately.
Nate Francisco (01:22):
It starts to decompose, just like it would in compost or something else like that. And so, over a period of one to two years, that breakdown, that decomposition, uses up all the oxygen. When that happens, a new type of organism comes in and creates methane, so anaerobic bacteria, those are the ones that create methane, which is similar to natural gas that you’re pulling out of the ground.
Nate Francisco (01:45):
Natural gas has about 99% methane. Our gas has about 50% methane. So we’ve got about half of the energy value of natural gas and it’s just coming out of garbage that we bury. We don’t have to do anything special other than putting a network of piping that can extract that gas out.
Nate Francisco (02:04):
So, it’s a resource that we’re creating. The more garbage we put in, the more gas we create.
Brett Ekart (02:08):
Does the pipe go over the top of the trash, of the solid waste? Does it sit on top, does it sit below, like where the liner is, or does it sit in the middle? How does that framework of piping work to pipe the gas to where it needs to go?
Nate Francisco (02:23):
Sure, all of the above. So we place the pipe as we build the landfills, so when we first put in the liner on the bottom, we’ll put in a series of pipes that are meant to collect the moisture as it percolates down from the landfill, and so we can evaporate that moisture.
Nate Francisco (02:38):
We also can extract gas through those pipes and then, as we build the landfill up, we put in a network of pipes that we can hook on to at a later date, to extract the gas out of its six inch perforated pipe, HDPE. Then, what we do is we hook it up to headers that go around the perimeter of the landfill and those headers have blowers attached to them at a skid to big motors and blowers that create a vacuum.
Nate Francisco (03:05):
So we’re actually hooking up to each end of those pipelines and putting a constant vacuum, which is about 30 inches in water column, on the landfill.
Brett Ekart (03:13):
So, as you build out the landfill, you add another blower, another section to it, and then pull it to, I would assume, the main trunk or whatever that pushes it in the plant.
Nate Francisco (03:22):
Sure. The blowers kind of all sit on one skid at the end of where all the headers come together and we oversize those so that, as we expand, they have enough capacity to just ramp them up and create that constant vacuum on the landfill.
Nate Francisco (03:38):
So now, with our system with the landfill gas-to-energy, we’ve got those blowers. They used to go to a flare, where we would just burn the gas and destroy all the harmful contaminants, pollutants. Instead of doing that, we’re sending it to a conditioning skid or a compression skid, and what this does is, we actually have another set of blowers that pressurizes the gas and when we pressurize the gas, it heats up and all the moisture in the gas will vaporize when we heat it up.
Nate Francisco (04:07):
We’ll run it through an after-cooler and a chiller that brings that temperature down to the dew point, and when that happens, it forms water droplets within the gas that we can remove. So we run that through a coalescent filter, it drops out all the water, and when that water drops out and those water droplets form, it actually binds up some of the contaminants in the gas that are out on our engines as well… Silicone and hydrogen sulfide, other types of sulfur, things like that actually drop out at that point as well.
Nate Francisco (04:38):
After we do that, we warm the gas back up with the hot gas that’s coming in. We have the heat exchanger and we send it back over to the engines. So, we send it to our energy plant.
Brett Ekart (04:49):
So as the engines run then, I assume that’s what then generates the electricity?
Nate Francisco (04:56):
Sure, yeah. That cleaned up gas goes over. Right now, we’ve got two Siemens [inaudible 00:05:02] engines. Each one produces about 1.3 kilowatt-hours of energy. That gas comes in, it’s distributed evenly to the two engines, and then a fuel regulator speeds up and slows down the gas, based on whatever power output we ask it to produce. If we ask it to produce 1.1, it’ll back off how much gas is going to the engines.
Nate Francisco (05:29):
They’re a reciprocating engine. They’re basically a large train engine, locomotive engine, or a tugboat engine that’s converted from diesel over to landfill gas. So it’s kind of a converted… It’s like a diesel engine with liners, but it’s got a spark plug at the top, so it’s kind of a mix of the two. It runs that engine, which runs the crank shaft, which then turns the generator and alternator on the end of the engine.
Nick Snyder (05:58):
Does that run 24 hours or just when you guys are here?
Nate Francisco (06:02):
Yeah, so its base load, we run 24 hours, unless we have scheduled maintenance’s or power outages, things like that.
Brett Ekart (06:09):
Does Idaho Power determine how hard you run it or how many kilowatts or do you guys, is that all done internally? Do they tell you, “Hey, we can use as much as you can send us,” or is it, I mean, who determines the pole, I guess?
Nate Francisco (06:24):
So, we determine it. The only thing Idaho Power holds us to is what we tell them we will do. So, we can set our power production where we want it to be, but if we tell them that we’re going to have a certain amount of power, we need to have produced that certain amount of power or there could be penalties involved with not meeting our quota.
So, when we get our power purchase agreement from Idaho Power too, we tell them how much we’re going to produce and like right now, our project is five megawatts. Right now, we’re at like 2.6 megawatts, so we can do anything within the first five years up to five megawatts, so we have sized our facility to be able to put another generator in because we know that we can go up to that nameplate capacity of the five megawatts.
We still have a lot of future installations.
Brett Ekart (07:14):
Is that because of cost, like you were telling earlier, is it because you want to make sure that you could basically piece it part of together versus going all the way to trying to produce five right out the gate, just starting getting everything rolling and then being able to add on?
Nate Francisco (07:31):
Brett Ekart (07:32):
Pieces or what determines that?
Nate Francisco (07:33):
When I talked about the more garbage put in, the more gas you get. So we just didn’t have enough gas to run three engines, so it wasn’t efficient to have three engines running at 60% when we started it because the maintenance cost is the same, even if you run it at 60% or 100%, so maintenance cost goes up, but your production stay low, so we needed to get to a point where we’re running the two we have, 80, 90% capacity, before it makes sense to get that third engine. It’s just the amount of gas that we have.
Brett Ekart (08:04):
So, four years it took you to get it done and now, four years later, would you change anything that you did with it? Would you do it different or are you happy with it?
Nate Francisco (08:16):
I’m happy with it. I think a project of this size, you rarely go without hiccups involved, so when you look back at all the hiccups, I think the success could be based on how you reacted to those hiccups and how you moved forward and how you made it a successful project.
Nate Francisco (08:32):
So, if that’s the way you look at it, then yes, it’s been a successful project and I wouldn’t change what we have out here. I would have done it sooner. This is the one thing that I would have changed. I would’ve tried to push this so we could get in sooner and start using the resource that we have out there, instead of burning it off for [crosstalk 00:08:55].
Brett Ekart (08:54):
Yeah, I think that’s what people could take away from it. I hope, whether it’s a landfill in Illinois or Ohio or New York, but to hear you say it and say, “The only thing we would’ve changed was we should have did it earlier,” maybe that’s all they need to push for it.
Nick Snyder (09:13):
Is it pretty commonplace for landfills to do it or is there a lot that could be doing it, they just haven’t taken that leap?
So, you’re required to control the gas. Some people would rather control the gas then install cattle in the structure that’s making money. It is cheaper to control a gas versus make electricity. We chose to make electricity out of this or you can still control it by flaring the gas off, but because there’s a lot of opportunity in it, landfill gas-to-energy is pretty common around landfills.
There’s a lot of other technology out there, though. We spent four years seeing what type of project we wanted to install because there were… At the time, we were looking at four different technologies. Now, there’s probably 40 different technologies to take advantage of this, so what we’ve done is pretty commonplace, but who knows what the future’s going to bring?
There might be some new technology around the corner that just flips all of this around and we’re doing something else with it. That’s the one thing that people always ask us is, “Well, what are you going to be doing with trash in 20, 30, 40, 50 years?” The answer is we don’t know.
It’s all about the community and everybody. Are you going to be sustainable, are you going to recycle? What are you going to do? I think the longer we go, as society, we’re going to start to figure out what we’re going to do. But I don’t think it’s going to be unheard of. You might see, 50 years down the road, well, we’re mining landfills. Think of all those resources that are thrown away and it’s creating resources too, so we’re creating gas and now we’re creating energy, but it is a commodity in the landfill and I think that’s something that people haven’t really scratched their head around, right now, is looking at how landfill is a commodity and it can be a commodity for a couple different things, producing gas or the commodities that are actually in the landfill, so who knows what this industry is going to bring?
But for right now, the landfill gas-to-energy is pretty common for landfills and doing something with the landfill gas.
Brett Ekart (11:26):
All right. I know this just from the scrap metal recycling end, is when they start to come out with the technology to sort the fines and the stainless steel and the insulated copper wires and all that out of the zorba coming off the shredders, you started seeing these companies go in and mine landfills in these big cities that had big landfills, where they’re taking all the shredder fluff. So for the last, I don’t know, I’d say 10 to 12-ish years, they’re going back in with all this mobile sort equipment and they’re mining all that shredder fluff back out of the landfill, that’s been buried for years, just to pick out the stainless, the aluminum, all the stuff that got missed because they didn’t have the technology to get down to the fines or the ability to pull out the zorba, the stainless, the copper wire, at the time, that you reverse any current to flip your, aluminum’s been around for a while.
Brett Ekart (12:22):
But it was never able to get the little pieces, you know what I mean?
It’s such a simple, simple technology that changed the industry of any current and who knows what the next thing is going to be? It just hasn’t been discovered yet and it might be the simple flip of an electrode that, just like in any current, might switch everything for us and it’s great.
Brett Ekart (12:44):
That’s what we were talking about. Which is cool about the landfill or even recycling the waste industry is, that’s what you were saying, what’s gets us up every day is that you never know what’s coming. As long as you’re be willing to change and you have a good pigeon-hole into what you can do and what you can’t do, you’re willing to kind of look at it from another set of eyes, get smart people like Nate in here that understand what you just said, which is probably over my head.
Brett Ekart (13:09):
There’s nothing wrong about it. But, to be able to get that, I mean, that’s what’s cool about our industry. But thank you Nate.
Nate Francisco (13:16):
Brett Ekart (13:16):
Thanks for that and we’re looking forward to showing everybody how that works.
Nate Francisco (13:21):
Let’s go out the landfill first, so that way, it’s all kind of in order of everything goes out here and then the gas is the end of the process.
Nate Francisco (13:33):
So, as far as… These are all the trailers that sit at our transfer stations and we push over the top and fill these up with garbage and then haul them out here from each site.
Brett Ekart (13:43):
I know they’re not [inaudible 00:13:45] for is [inaudible 00:13:46] because you guys actually have a tipper here.
Nate Francisco (13:49):
We used to have walking bed floors, so we still have some 45 footers that are walking bed floors, but we use them at our smaller sites. We try to get all of our sites using 53 footers, if we can, just for efficiency.
Nate Francisco (14:01):
There’s our wood grinder right there, that horizontal grinder over there.
Brett Ekart (14:05):
And the [inaudible 00:14:05] are cheaper than buying those walking [inaudible 00:14:09].
Nate Francisco (14:08):
Yeah, especially on maintenance.
Brett Ekart (14:11):
Yeah. And we have… [inaudible 00:14:14] is… Where is their site? Is it in?
Nate Francisco (14:18):
It’s in Paul.
Nate Francisco (14:19):
So, it’s only 20 miles away from here too, so he does a good job.
Nate Francisco (14:23):
So you can see up here on this part of the landfill too, it’s covered in snow now, but this is all final closure on landfills, so this is what it’ll look like for years to come when you put the compacted soil layer and then a layer of topsoil on top of that and then revegetate it.
Brett Ekart (14:46):
Nate Francisco (14:49):
And so that keeps any moisture from entering the garbage, it also helps hold the gas in the landfills so we can extract it.
Brett Ekart (14:56):
So, the topsoil is what keeps it from entering?
Nate Francisco (14:59):
No, the compacted does, but we put topsoil on so we can get vegetation to grow and it doesn’t erode, so it doesn’t erode over time. When we dig cells, the first thing we do is we go strip the topsoil and then we stockpile that for when we do final closures in the future, so it all kind of comes back around in the end.
So, vegetation does help to lock everything into place though, so the more vegetation you have, it does keep the air out, once the vegetation.
Brett Ekart (15:28):
What is the sand used for?
Nate Francisco (15:31):
So, what we can use the sand for are, typically we use more gravel, but we can use the sand for putting on the liner, so when we put down the liner system, we put a protective layer on top of that, which helps.
Brett Ekart (15:45):
Sand and gravel.
Nate Francisco (15:45):
Yes, so it’s sand and gravel. It allows the moisture to percolate through once it leaves the garbage and then run down the liner downhill. It also protects you from getting punctures in the liner, so when you tip garbage onto it, something sharp doesn’t go down through the gravel.
Brett Ekart (16:01):
How thick of a sand-gravel layer do you put on top of your [crosstalk 00:16:05]?
Nate Francisco (16:05):
You know that picture that’s down in the [inaudible 00:16:09] that Nate took with his iPhone? So that’s the spot. Once we’re done with felt, then we come back over the top of that and that’ll be two to three foot of gravel, so that’s the spot where we put it in.
Nate Francisco (16:20):
And right here, if you look at this line, that’s the end of where we did the final closure, so you can see how thick of a compacted layer that is. So, when we come back eventually, you’ll just start right there and start closing the new section.
Brett Ekart (16:36):
Regulation height-wise, I mean, is there a reason why you go to that height right there versus building it up higher or do you use it?
Nate Francisco (16:44):
Our initial design was done… It was done partially for aesthetics and partially just from the footprint that we have, so that we don’t have too steep of slopes. So, at some point, you top out without having steeper slopes. We’re actually doing a study right now and we purchased additional property that we’re going to expand our design plan, and with that, we think we’re going to have the ability to go up another 80 hundred feet higher, as well, and gain space on top of cells that we’ve already built and the expenses we’ve already had.
It’s all about air space. That’s the name of our game, is how much garbage can you fit into one cubic yard of air space? So the more compact you can get that and the more weight in one cubic yard of air space, the better off you are and the more efficient you are.
So, when you’re designing something, you don’t want pyramids all over the place or you don’t want something that looks like it doesn’t belong, so we’re built right into this butte right over here and eventually, when we build everything out, it’ll essentially look like one big butte.
Nick Snyder (17:48):
Yeah, you want to be able to [inaudible 00:17:49] like really.
Brett Ekart (17:51):
So, all this wood chip right here, is the purpose of that just for roadway right now or that’s just something that you’re being [inaudible 00:18:00]? Because that’s… You got a [inaudible 00:18:01] here.
Yeah, so we use this for our wet time because the wood absorbs the water. We’ve got a real weird soil matrix out here and when we get muddy, our soil just expands and it’s a pain in the butt to get into, so our guys like to put the wood chips on there and then it absorbs the water and then you don’t deal with the mud as much as you would otherwise.
Brett Ekart (18:26):
So you guys can sell your wood chips then, to farmers or anything like that or do you?
We do, but everything that we grind here at the landfill, we keep onsite for operations. At all of our other sites, we do sell them and we sell out all the time. But here, we use them onsite for operations.
Brett Ekart (18:43):
What do the farmers use the wood chips for?
Nate Francisco (18:44):
Yeah, they use them for… A lot of them, like from the stuff that we buy, we only do one grind, so if you look at it, it’s not great. If we reground our stuff, they could use it for bedding and other stuff, but the stuff that we do, you can see some of it right there, it’s not super uniform.
They use it for pivots, where their pivot tracks are. Because they get big ruts in their fields, so they just.
Brett Ekart (19:06):
They need to fill the ruts?
Brett Ekart (19:08):
Okay. So I’m sure this is a dumb question, but when we came out here last time, there was a crap load of seagulls, right?
Brett Ekart (19:15):
And I assume that the winner kills the drill on the seagulls or I mean, you still getting some?
Nick Snyder (19:21):
We saw that hawk guy at that BSU thing.
Nate Francisco (19:24):
Yeah, we don’t get… There’s not many seagulls [crosstalk 00:19:27] that stick around in the winter here. They migrate south, but they’ll usually come back in the springtime and start coming looking for the food source that they remember.
Brett Ekart (19:35):
We bought that falcon out here though. And as soon as they unleash the falcon, these birds just went crazy out here.
Brett Ekart (19:44):
Yeah, they were just like, “What is this falcon doing here?”
Brett Ekart (19:48):
[inaudible 00:19:48] I got a chance to talk to him for a while, but he basically said that if he brings a consistent presence.
I don’t want to get out. Do you guys want to take some video of this dumping? Let’s get up there by the truck and let him get out. We’ll tell him not to dump until you’re ready. If we could get out by that blue.
Nate Francisco (20:09):
I’ll probably go over by the other tipper.
Yeah. That’s a great idea.
Brett Ekart (20:22):
So what makes you build a [inaudible 00:20:24] versus one of those Al-Jon?
So, we used to be with Al-Jon for a long time. They’re a little bit smaller than this, they didn’t… The size-up that they had, they put in a different transmission and a different engine, so it was really powerful, but it was really slow, and we just couldn’t deal with that. Plus, Al-Jon was bought out, Al-Jon went through some weird, you know.
Brett Ekart (20:49):
I know. That’s why we’ve even switched to Sierra [inaudible 00:20:52].
That’s the big reason why we went to Caterpillar, because we had spots where we couldn’t get parts for like six months and it was like rinky-dink part relays and stuff.
Brett Ekart (21:01):
Nick Snyder (21:03):
So Josh, how many of these [inaudible 00:21:09] do you typically see?
It depends. I mean, we’re probably doing 30 to 60 on a super busy day. Five, six year ago, we had days where we wouldn’t even do 20 in a day. Like 17 was a pretty normal day. We had a day a couple weeks ago where we did 22 in one day, from Twin Falls transfer station, just a couple weeks ago.
Nick Snyder (21:40):
Do you find it busier in the spring time and all that?
Brett Ekart (21:44):
Is it strictly population driven, is it project driven? What’s driven the increase? Is it industry driven, like what drives it harder? More people in houses or industry?
Industry. [crosstalk 00:22:01]
Then you’ve got the housing. [crosstalk 00:22:04]
Brett Ekart (22:05):
That makes sense.
But, we can tell, from the industrial side, because that’s an actual roll off coming out, right? And it’s a lot more volume coming out. We also can tell from the increase in just solid waste at the transfer station, but direct how the industry waste, I mean, it’s a lot.
And I have to commend the economic development, not industry, but entities in our seven counties. They’ve really done a good job on recruiting good companies and working with us and it’s been really good.
Brett Ekart (22:37):
So I want, I mean, because you hear about it, the average person creates X amount of trash per month, we hear whatever that is. I’m super curious. Is that number getting bigger on a per-person basis? Is it going, I mean, with all the recycling that’s going on, is it coming down or is it? Has anybody ever ran that calculation for the population each year?
So, EPA does. EPA, the last time they ran that figure was years and years ago. I just was reading an article and I think it was like 4.5 pounds of trash a week, do you remember? Whatever it is, whatever that EPA default was, this study was finding out that it was almost double what EPA said on what the normal person was disposing of.
I don’t know how much information or data or if it was a report that would stand up to anything, but I’d say you’re probably… Think about all these things. People are wearing the fashion, it’s throw-away fashion, right? They wear a t-shirt, they travel somewhere, they buy it, they wear it a couple times, and then it’s gone. It goes somewhere.
That’s going to be the next thing that you hear about, is… What do they call it? Textiles. Textile recycling is going to be the next thing that you hear about, like why do we have so much textile waste?
Brett Ekart (24:05):
Because you see like your [inaudible 00:24:07] of the world. They’re billing that, right?
Yeah, you see that. I mean, think about all the single-use plastic stuff. Coffee cups or the K-cup. There’s just been so much, so many inventions that innovate, but they might have a little bit more waste with it too.
Brett Ekart (24:24):
[inaudible 00:24:24] I heard somebody talk about it the other day. It’s time. Everybody’s trying to figure out how to save time and when you save time, you, generally, are going to create waste. Somewhere along the line, there’s waste that’s getting generated and all in an effort to save time. So, the coffee, you never used to have [inaudible 00:24:46] all that. It’s like, “Oh!”
Brett Ekart (24:48):
You think you’re doing good, but you’re not.
Brett Ekart (24:54):
If you’re not, if you’re super focused on, how do we get rid of this?
Yeah, it’s society, right? Everything that we deal with is pushed by society. We didn’t do that, we’re just dealing with it.
Brett Ekart (25:06):
Nate Francisco (25:09):
Well, and I think that has upturns and downturns. I’m sure Josh already talked about the economics too. When times are good, people are using more single-use stuff, they’re getting rid of more stuff, so how much they’re getting rid of per day goes up, but then [crosstalk 00:25:26].
Nate Francisco (25:25):
They’re getting stuff in bulk, they’re getting things that aren’t in little single-use packets.
Brett Ekart (25:29):
No, I never thought about it that way. It totally makes sense.
We see those ships here tonnage-wise.
Brett Ekart (25:35):
You see an avid flow with the price of shrapnel too, right?
Brett Ekart (25:39):
When the price of shrapnel is low.
Less batteries. [crosstalk 00:25:42] It’s everything.
So, my predecessor Terry, he did a little study with the Ada County Deputy Director, probably 10, 11 years ago, and it was solid waste volumes following the Dow Jones. And the solid waste volumes were a good nine to 12 months ahead of what was happening in the Dow because it took a year for that to catch up with the economy. And it really is true if you think about it.
Brett Ekart (26:10):
Well, I believe that 100%. You see some of that already.
And we still see high volumes coming out. That’s why everybody right now is talking about, when’s the recession going to hit? Well, it all depends on where you live. But right now, with our economy, I see us still having our solid waste volumes and still strong, so I feel like it’s still, at least, nine to 12 months.
Brett Ekart (26:33):
Is there a whole lot of planning on year-end, year-out, if you think it’s going to increase 25% in two years or are you just kind of going year-to-year?
We plan. We’re doing a 20 year plan right now, but we plan every year. We look at it, we look at the budget time and we’ll make sure.
Nick Snyder (26:49):
You might have said this already, but how many tons of waste?
So that’s probably 20 tons, 20, 25 tons. We’re about a thousand ton per day landfill, about a 900 actually. We were 900 last month in December and that’s generally a pretty low month. When you’re talking about landfills, anything under about 500 is a fairly small landfill.
Anything from 800 to 1200 is a medium size landfill and then, anything over 1200 is a fairly good size landfill. Like Ada County, they do about 15 hundred tons a day.
Nick Snyder (27:33):
Okay. That puts it into perspective.
Brett Ekart (27:36):
What are your big East Coast landfills? What are your big landfills doing in a day?
[inaudible 00:27:46] Las Vegas landfill. Do you remember it?
Brett Ekart (27:49):
Yeah, [inaudible 00:27:49].
They have nine tippers, they’re running like 10 compactors, and it’s 24/7. They got lights on at night.
Brett Ekart (27:56):
Nate Francisco (27:57):
They’re running 24 hours. [crosstalk 00:28:02]
Brett Ekart (28:03):
What’s your hours here?
We do 10 hour days, six days a week.
Brett Ekart (28:07):
Nate Francisco (28:08):
And that’s not all tipping time either. You’ve got to cover… We’ve got to get this [inaudible 00:28:13] all covered at the end of the day. [crosstalk 00:28:15]
Nate Francisco (28:15):
We have to have a cutoff an hour, an hour and a half before we close, but we got to start the other stuff.
Nick Snyder (28:25):
You have to cover like the whole [inaudible 00:28:25]?
Nate Francisco (28:27):
[crosstalk 00:28:27] We talk about seagulls, it’s far. So we don’t want to track for [inaudible 00:28:34], rats, seagulls, things like that. It’s also for our protection because if we can get the oxygen, the [inaudible 00:28:40] stopped, there’s less likelihood of a fire happening.
Brett Ekart (28:42):
So, from a regulation standpoint, is Idaho… Do they make it easier or tougher to operate in than some of the other states? I mean, Idaho from a landfill’s standpoint?
Nate Francisco (28:54):
I think that they make it easier than a lot of states. Mostly because, in Idaho’s legislature, it says that we will not be more strict or less strict than the federal rules, so whenever we have solid waste rules coming out on a federal level, the state adopts them and enforces them.
Nate Francisco (29:12):
But they don’t go above and beyond.
Brett Ekart (29:14):
They can’t be more strict than.
Nate Francisco (29:15):
Yeah, they can’t go above and beyond what the federal government.
And right now, with the governor going through with his Red Ribbon initiative, I mean, he’s just striking laws out left and right, so they went through it. Nate and I went through our regulations and we went through… We were doing something else too, at the same time.
Nate Francisco (29:30):
We’re also on the air side of things, so we had to deal with a lot of air regulations, as well, so we’ve got solve the waste side and we got an air side and the water quality side, that we have to look at all three of those [inaudible 00:29:40].
But they stripped a lot of the regulation out. I mean, it was like, a third of the overall laws that were on the books last year, they got taken out. They said if there’s duplicative measures of if they don’t need to be on there, take them out. So, Idaho is the most business-friendly state to do business in, right now.
Nick Snyder (30:01):
Any of those scream out at you that could really help you guys, that got off the list?
Not from ours, really. Ours were duplicative.
Nick Snyder (30:10):
Just like less red tape.
Nate Francisco (30:13):
We like the way it is with Idaho because it gives us flexibility. We can adhere to the minimum regulations, but then, because we’re efficient, we have the ability to go above and beyond.
Brett Ekart (30:24):
Yeah, and I think that’s what gets lost in a lot of business and lot of industry, is if you put so much regulation on what this lawmaker feels important or this lawmaker feels important and they direct all their energy towards these few things, it makes you inefficient on the whole grander scheme of things.
Brett Ekart (30:44):
It makes you inefficient on what you could be doing over and above to really take care of your industry, because you’re just trying to put all your efforts to taking care of what some guy, what was really important to him versus what’s important to the industry as a whole.
Nate Francisco (30:58):
Most people want to do the right thing. [crosstalk 00:31:00] Definitely wants to do the right thing and do what they can afford to do to help out, but sometimes, you get.
Brett Ekart (31:07):
But you still have to keep the lights on. You guys still have 75 people that require a paycheck, you still have… There’s so many pieces and parts of that puzzle that get forgotten.
One thing I do have to say though is, even with the regulatory framework the way it is right now, if there’s any changes to the industry, the DEQ knows that we’re organized and we’re going to come to the table and we’re going to be a part of that law making process.
So, instead of trying to step back and be like, “Oh, I don’t want to work with those guys,” they’ve been really good to say, “Come to the table. We want to hear what you’re saying and we want to work with you,” so I’ve really appreciated that from our standpoint too.
Nate Francisco (31:45):
And they get it too. They don’t want to impose laws that people aren’t going to hear too because that just creates more work for them, so if you come up with something that works for everybody, then it’s better for everyone.
Nick Snyder (31:56):
Yeah, it just makes sense.
Should we wind back down to the landfill gas-to-energy?
Nick Snyder (32:02):
Where are we headed now?
Nate Francisco (32:03):
I’m just going to run over by some of our conversion programs. We call it a conversion, but essentially, it’s recycling. It’s all stuff that we’re diverting out of the landfill and reusing or sending off for recycling, those sort of things.
This part right here, along with the gas, I think a lot of public don’t realize that landfills are doing this.
Nate Francisco (32:23):
It goes to a landfill, it gets buried.
Nate Francisco (32:25):
And this is lots of tonnage. This is a lot of volume that we’re saving, not only saving in the landfill, but that we’re moving somewhere else and reusing.
Brett Ekart (32:33):
When you’re using it.
Brett Ekart (32:34):
When you’re using your pals and your wood and all that crap for roadway stuff, like you’re selling it to farmers… I mean, this stuff is being reused.
But here’s the thing too, that I think, I think this is why it’s such a ‘aha’ moment is, we did 250,000 tons of solid waste last year, but we recycled and diverted over 40,000 tons.
Brett Ekart (32:57):
When you look at that and then you hear a city, in their recycling program, say, “Well, we recycled 2,000 tons last year.” That’s good, but we recycled 40,000, so my point is, people don’t think of recyclers or people that do land filling as recycling, right?
But we’re probably one of the biggest recyclers in the seven counties because we’re doing more volume than anybody else in recycling. And that’s an aspect of our job that nobody even looks at. [inaudible 00:33:30] solid waste.
Nate Francisco (33:30):
This isn’t the sexy recycling, it’s not the plastic and the paper, but this stuff is a lot of volume.
Brett Ekart (33:36):
That’s the government side of it. They’ve teamed up with the Republics and the big corporations of the world and they’ve decided to push that form of recycling because, like you said, it’s sexier, it’s prettier, it’s easier to discuss, but you get down to the nuts and bolts of it.
Brett Ekart (33:56):
You guys are talking about… If you guys do 40,000 ton a year in recycling and us, combining our facilities, we do probably 60 to 70,000 ton. I mean, where does that 60 to 70,000 ton and your 40,000 ton, and we’re just two players in a big industry. If you want to talk about recycling.
Brett Ekart (34:20):
Not exporting mixed waste, like recycling.
Right. Yeah, I agree 100%. And think about this too. Think about you’re… Let’s just say, combined, we add 100,000 more tons a year. If that was being disposed of, think of how much more landfill space that would take, over the term of history.
Nate, let’s go over the landfill gas-to-energy. This is something too small, but we know that we’re paying to get rid of our tires and we know that anywhere from 15 to 20% of the overall tonnage is going to come from the metal and the tires.
So, we were looking at [inaudible 00:35:01]. And for a good one, they’re like 40 grand. For everything that you would need. So, I just had my shop mechanic, I said, “Look, this is what I want. What can you do?” He built one that was three times the size and beefed up better for 2,000 dollars versus 40 grand.
Nate Francisco (35:17):
And that was reusing old equipment from the landfill.
Old equipment, yeah. So now, we recycle all the metal now, right?
Brett Ekart (35:26):
[inaudible 00:35:26], you push it through?
Yup. Ours, it’s a V and then you push it with a double.
Brett Ekart (35:32):
Like a wood cutter.
Yeah, it’s just like a wood cutter. Exactly.
Same exact [crosstalk 00:35:38]. Yup.
[inaudible 00:35:40] together. There’s a lot of different designs for doing it, but for us, with what we had, that was the easiest. And ours is double ram too, so we took rams off of an old Al-Jon compactor. The rams were just to prop the compacter up, to change the wheels. We used them like twice ever. It was a waste of money for the machine, but we just took them and popped them on that and said, “Oh, we’ll use that.”
We used one of these old eye beams as the frame.
Nate Francisco (36:12):
So if you look up here, the pipe sticking out of the ground with the yellow hose, those are all landfill gas wellheads.
Nate Francisco (36:19):
At the end of every pipe that we’re extracting gas, we can actually balance each pipeline, so different areas of the landfill have different ages of garbage and different types of garbage even, some of them. So we’re able to go a couple times a month and turn those up, turn them down, in order to get a consistent gas coming out of them.
Brett Ekart (36:37):
How often do you have to adjust those?
Nate Francisco (36:40):
We’re required to monthly. But we do usually do it, two to three times a month is how often we try to get out there.
Brett Ekart (36:47):
Does that change or create the efficiency for the gas coming into where we’re going to right now?
Nate Francisco (36:54):
Yeah, so the consistency and also the amount. The consistency and quality, so 50% methane or higher and then also the amount because it’ll change with the seasons. When things warm up, we’ll start getting more flow, which means we’ve got to start popping those back open a little bit slowly.
The barometric pressure has something to do with the flows coming through. I mean, you name it, it’s.
Nate Francisco (37:19):
So, after it’s collected there, it gets upped into header pipes that bring it over to this first skid. This is, where that black pipe coming out of the ground, is where all the gas from the entire landfill comes, in that 12 inch pipe. It comes out, we knock out some initial moisture in a [inaudible 00:37:39] pot, and then those are the blowers with those motors of them.
Nate Francisco (37:43):
That’s where it gets transferred from vacuum to pressure, so it goes in one side, out the other side is pressure. The old flare where we used to burn the gas, at about 14 hundred degrees, to destroy it. Before it gets to that point now, it goes up that stainless pipe and over to our gas conditioning skid.
I met my wife because of this project, so I like this project.
Nick Snyder (38:09):
In 2009, when we installed this. My wife was a reporter, so she wanted to do a news story on this. That’s where I met her.
Nick Snyder (38:17):
Oh, nice, that’s cool.
Nate Francisco (38:20):
Yeah, so everything comes over on this overhead line. Two more blowers here that kind of step up that pressure and then it runs through that after-cooler fan and a chiller system. It knocks all the moisture out and then swings back around, heats it back up, and comes out this smaller line, and then we put it back into a 12 inch to head over to the energy facility.
And with this project too, we try to do as much as we can, so all of the pipe installs, we did. All of the HDPE stuff, we did all of the earthwork for the facility.
Brett Ekart (38:59):
Well, that’s what’s cool, is you guys are like a quasi government company, but you’re also your own business, like you get it kind of running just like I would run our business or whatever. I mean, it’s, you kind of get… It definitely creates some more hurdles, but also, I think it creates some more opportunity, if done right.
Brett Ekart (39:23):
If you fight the tape and you push back and you’re not cooperative with all the other entities, I can see how it can create you a bunch of issues, but if you can figure out a way to get everybody talking the same language, then, I mean, you’re really going to run it like it’s your business.
Yeah, we really do, and we’ve had people come out here and we’ve had a private landfill from Salt Lake area come up here one time and they were a private entity and they came up and kind of doing the same thing we’re doing today, and the guy said, “You know, this is the most privately-ran public agency I’ve ever seen.”
We take pride in that. That’s what we do, is we want to do it, we want to do it right, we want to do it quick, and we want to do it fast and efficient, and so that was a huge compliment for us.
Nate Francisco (40:13):
So, [inaudible 00:40:17] before, this is the control room. This is where our tech is in here, making sure everything stays running, organizing all the maintenance, so we have [inaudible 00:40:28] engine and monitoring their performance individually.
Nick Snyder (40:32):
Does your tech need to be in here all day or can you just kind of check on it?
Nate Francisco (40:37):
Everything’s set up to be remote, so anything you see in here, we can access or we can control from our phone or laptop or home or from wherever we are, so we can do any of that remotely. We do have an on-call schedule, so that if it’s something you have to be onsite for, if there’s a shutdown, then someone’s always on-call to come out here and get things started back up.
Brett Ekart (40:57):
So you want to just explain to us what you got on here?
Nate Francisco (41:01):
Yeah, so this is one of the engines, this is another one of the engines, and this is just the engine diagnostics, so it’s got every sensor and there are a lot of sensors on these things. Every sensor has an output on here. We’re able to track them or graph any of them to see if there’s any changes or alerts.
Nate Francisco (41:18):
If things go outside of a certain range, ranging from [inaudible 00:41:22] RPMs. Our power saving on this engine right now is 8,000 kilowatts, so we’re producing one megawatt on that engine right now, which is about a 1,000 home, so with the two combined, we’re doing about 2,000 homes worth of energy right now.
Nate Francisco (41:38):
And anything that’s [inaudible 00:41:38] is open. Each individual cylinder in that engine monitor the temperature, we monitor how much it’s knocking, we monitor the kilowatts going through the smart plugs to see if there’s a smart plug wearing out.
We measure so much that we know what temperature each spark plug is running at, at all times. I mean, you name something that you want a stat on, we’ve got it probably documented and downloaded.
Nate Francisco (42:05):
Because we’re always striving for efficiency, we really want to know the effects of… Because we have all this data, we can [inaudible 00:42:12] change one things, so you take, for instance, cylinder temperatures. You want to bring your cylinder temperatures down or our overall temperature and our turbo down, if you run it harder, you’re going to pull more air through the engine and it’s actually more cooler than if you’re running it at a lower setting.
Nate Francisco (42:30):
So, what seems like would be the opposite actually makes your engine more cooler and more efficient, by running [inaudible 00:42:36].
Brett Ekart (42:37):
So when you guys were looking at installing this system, you guys, I assume, went to other landfills to see what they’re running, how they’re doing it. I mean, was there one or two of them that stuck out, that you’re like, “Yeah, that’s the system we want?” What determined going this route? Search-wise?
I could probably answer that quicker. [inaudible 00:43:05] answer that quicker is… Bannock County did one that was almost identical to this. The big thing is, when you do a landfill gas-to-energy facility, typically, with an entity like us, you team up with somebody. They come in and they say, “Hey, we’ll build this plant. We’ll do it, we’ll maintain it, but we want to give you a kickback, 10% of the revenue or something like that.”
That’s not a lot of money for us and Bannock County said, “We’re going to do it all and we’re going to take advantage of everything,” so that was really enticing to us and that’s why we kind of followed that model.
The project and the type of material that we use, the engines are different, but it’s kind of the same idea, is we’re doing everything, we’re operating everything. Where, typically you would team up with somebody and have them operate it, we got sharp people here, we got people that can do it, so we took advantage of it. So, that’s a big thing.
Nate Francisco (43:59):
And as far as the equipment we ended up with, when we [inaudible 00:44:01] we’re public, so we have to go out on a public bid, but we set this up not only based… We didn’t want to just base it on price and output. We wanted it to be, what is going to have the best return for the district over the term of our contract with Idaho Power?
Nate Francisco (44:16):
So, we set it up and took all of the maintenance into effect, because you could say, “Well, our engine costs this much and we put out this much,” but it’s twice as much in maintenance. If you leave that part out, you could not have as good as returns, so we set it up so that they have to put in all those numbers and show us, at the end, how much money do we end up with after 20 years.
Nate Francisco (44:37):
Whoever gets the most net, that wins the bid. That’s how we set this up.
Brett Ekart (44:40):
Which is kind of beneficial.
That’s the best way to do it.
Brett Ekart (44:43):
They provide you a lot of that financial data and what they’re willing to do, so you kind of get… Whoever’s trying to sell you on the equipment like, “Hey. Tell me, how does this thing really perform?” And then stick by it.
Nate Francisco (44:56):
Yup. And then we also, we put [crosstalk 00:44:59].
That’s what we did.
Nate Francisco (44:59):
We held them to those bids.
Brett Ekart (45:01):
Nate Francisco (45:02):
We said, “If it does not perform, if we don’t get these heat values out of this engine or we don’t get the output you said we would, there’s penalties involved within that bid.”
So it’s just a bid based on return on investments, so when we’re spending public money, we want the best return on our investment. The best way to get that is set the bid up to make them be as efficient as possible and then they’re competing to be most efficient, to get more revenue at the end, so it was a win-win. It was a lot of work, but it was a win-win at the end there.
Brett Ekart (45:35):
Let’s see the beast. The double beast.
Nate Francisco (45:38):
I don’t know if you just want to shoot through the window or [crosstalk 00:45:40].
Some things that I didn’t realize when we were doing this. Those swamp coolers that… You kind of feel cold air, they’re kicking out 20,000 cubic feet per minute on that. You can’t really feel it, but the big intakes over the top, that’s the air exchanger. I mean, that’s how much air is moving through there. We don’t realize that.
Nate Francisco (46:00):
And we got a big old fan right above us.
When we had the.
Nate Francisco (46:00):
It keeps the doors from blowing off.
Yeah. When the manufacture of the engines come out here and do some training for all of our guys, and when they came and looked at our setup, they were like, “Oh, god, this is great! We’ve never seen an install like this.” Putting the swamp coolers in and having the cool air on the intake, it makes them run more efficient.
Nobody else, they’d never seen that before, so that’s the kind of stuff that… We try to do it as efficient from the beginning, but then, we try to get our engineers together and say, “Okay. Now, how can we make it more efficient?”
So that’s the kind of… That’s why we like this project so much. It’s not just a norm, we’re like a one of a kind, you’ll never see another project like this out there.
People are doing this, but not in the same way that we are.
Nate Francisco (46:49):
The other cool part too, as a [inaudible 00:46:49] that is, when you’re pulling air from inside of the building and then sending it outside with an exhaust to create a vacuum inside of the building, if you didn’t have those, you wouldn’t create a vacuum and just suck dust into the building from outside.
Nate Francisco (47:02):
So by having those push more air, what’s going out, we actually keep a positive [crosstalk 00:47:09] around the building and we keep that from [crosstalk 00:47:10], so it stays clean, like you can see in there.
So, some other cool stuff that isn’t landfill-gas to-energy, but see these things right here? So these are microbes that, we’re teaming up with another company in the area, and they have incubated, I guess, is what you would say, methanogen or I could say bacteria.
Brett Ekart (47:37):
In these crates right here?
In these crates, yeah. So, these methanogen microbes that they’ve produced, we’re then taking it out onto our working phase and we’re putting that on our working phase to try and create more methane. Nobody else is doing that right now. I don’t know of anybody that’s doing that, do you?
Nate Francisco (47:55):
I think there’s been some studies done in the past about it, but it’s never really broken through.
Brett Ekart (48:00):
Will you guys do a case study on that?
Yeah, we’re seeing, right now, we’ve got some old areas of the landfill that aren’t great producers. So, our hope is that, hey, maybe if we put these methanogen microbes down, it might start to produce that methane.
Brett Ekart (48:15):
Which, basically, you’re trying to get breakdown faster.
Well, breakdown at all. If it hasn’t broken down because, maybe.
Brett Ekart (48:23):
There’s not enough [crosstalk 00:48:23].
Right. Some could’ve happened. They could have some waste mixed in that isn’t allowing it, it could have an air pocket that’s completely… I mean, there’s a lot of things, so that’s why we’re hoping.
Nate Francisco (48:35):
We’re trying to get a research involvement permit through the State and EPA, to do liquids addition into the landfill, to help bring our gas [inaudible 00:48:43] up and produce gas quicker. If we have dry two areas of the landfill that are just dried out, so they can’t sustain microbes, we can actually introduce moisture into that and then hopefully, it bounces back up.
Brett Ekart (48:56):
So, should [inaudible 00:48:56] water?
Nate Francisco (48:58):
Well, it could be just leachate that’s already coming out the bottom, we can just recirculate it back through into areas that need it. It can also be [crosstalk 00:49:06] outside industrial wastewater or [inaudible 00:49:10] tanks. A lot of different possibilities.
You can’t put free liquids in a landfill, so if you bring something in that is a liquid, we can’t take it. We can only take solid waste.
Nick Snyder (49:23):
So these two, they power 2,000 homes?
Yeah, [inaudible 00:49:27].
Nick Snyder (49:27):
What’s their max? What could they get up to?
Nate Francisco (49:31):
Like 25 hundred.
25 hundred to get to a max.
Brett Ekart (49:33):
[inaudible 00:49:33] either see run at 80 to 90% efficiency, so that’s when you have room for another one.
Bring another one in. So right now, we’re thinking about, we have to install the third engine within five years. So we’re probably going to start going down that path rather soon.
Brett Ekart (49:51):
What’s the engine cost? What does it cost you to just add one more?
For one more engine, you’re probably looking around a million dollars. Probably a little bit under a million, but you’re probably… All of the infrastructure included and price, it’s probably a million dollars.
Brett Ekart (50:07):
Because when you guys hook into the Idaho power grid, because that’s what those big lines are, coming off that motor, right? Running it down into one of the directions to the grid. Does Idaho Power run wire-run cable up to a certain point and then you’re responsible?
Nate Francisco (50:28):
Yeah, we can show you if we walk outside, but we’ve got an interconnect. We built the line from the end of our building here, so when those cables leave the alternators, they go into our switch gear room, which we have all the controls for.
Brett Ekart (50:42):
Share responsibility for that.
Nate Francisco (50:44):
And those things and then it pops out and the transforms will step that down onto a smaller wire. Send it out on the power lines to the edge of our property and then there’s a thing called an interconnect, and that’s where Idaho Power puts the pole, we got a place to put a pole, and then Idaho Power hooks the two up.
Nate Francisco (51:01):
Our stuff ends here, they’re responsible.
Brett Ekart (51:03):
But you’re responsible all the way [inaudible 00:51:05]?
All of these power lines that you see, those are ours up until the switch gear or the interconnect. I think there’s like two power poles, three power poles on our property that are Idaho Power’s, but anything from that point on is us, so it’s our responsibility to keep it going up until that point.
Anything past that point is Idaho Power.
Brett Ekart (51:25):
Does Idaho Power encourage that project?
They love our type of power.
Brett Ekart (51:29):
And I can’t speak for Idaho power in particular, but I can say that solar and wind are intermittent energy sources, where our gas is coming 24/7, 365, so that’s a source of base load power. They love base load power projects like this and it’s a renewable resource. So, they really… They were awesome to work with.
We had a good working experience, we had no surprises at all. They were right upfront and they were really good to work with.
Nate Francisco (51:58):
They were the best, yeah.
Brett Ekart (52:00):
That’s good for people to hear because everybody likes to rip on the power company. [inaudible 00:52:06] let me do like that or I mean, you lik to hear that they’re out there, they’re trying to create power without putting in dams or anything else that people can complain about.
They’re really smart about it too. The way they get into a power purchase agreement is, like for us, they said, “Look. This is a great project, but we don’t need it right now. So we’ve got all this power online. We’ve got all these customers, but we don’t need your power. We forecast that we will need your power in three years from now, so we’re not going to pay you much for the first three years, but when we need your power, we’re going to step you up and we’ll pay you for it.”
So they’re really upfront about the process, everything, and it works really well for us. For us, it’s like getting past the first three years of the project is the hardest part. Once that’s done, it’s all gravy on top of that, it’ll be easy, so it’s been a really fun process, I think, for everybody.
Brett Ekart (53:00):
So yeah, thanks for coming down.
Brett Ekart (53:08):
Thank you for listening to another episode of Recycled Idaho. And as we continue the journey across this great state, we look forward to bringing you more stories of people and organizations putting in the work to do the right thing.