California, No Longer the State Where the Future Happens First
by James L. Stewart (Biofuels Digest/BioEnergy Producers Association) For the past decade, repressive provisions in statute have discouraged developers of conversion technologies from operating in California.
Among its statutory roadblocks, the state has a scientifically inaccurate definition of gasification, which, if taken literally, would require zero emissions from the entire biorefining process. Think how many petroleum refineries or power plants there would be in California if they had to meet this standard. Zero.
…As a result, California’s emerging biobased technology companies have either moved out of the state, or sited elsewhere, thermal renewable energy projects amounting to at least $1 billion in capital investment.
…In connection with AB 341, recently passed legislation that envisions 75% recycling in the state by 2020, CalRecycle has embarked upon a study to determine which elements of the municipal waste stream conversion technologies will be allowed to process, after which they may consider amending the gasification definition.
This ambiguous process is fraught with risk for biobased technology companies. It is uncertain that Materials Recovery Facilities would be willing to make the investment necessary to separate materials to the degree that could be mandated by this study, and these regulations appear destined to give priority to the recycling of products, such as paper or plastics, over the recycling of carbon, i.e., ignoring the concept of the highest and best use of organic wastes, and potentially restricting conversion technologies to recyclables that are of limited value to the industry.
…However, as CalRecycle does not have to report to the legislature on its AB 341 studies until the end of next year, no corrective legislation is expected to pass and take effect until January 2015.
Considering the time that would then be necessary to navigate the state’s convoluted permitting process, it appears that California is not likely to see the beginnings of a viable waste-based biofuels, biobased chemicals and renewable power industry much before the end of this decade.
Meanwhile, a substantial portion of its recylable materials continue to be exported to Asia and elsewhere, beyond the state’s regulatory oversight. Although their destinations, end uses and life-cycle benefits are never documented, these materials obtain credit as recycling the moment they leave the docks. READ MORE