Enabling Place-based Waste Management Solutions in the United States

The United States Department of Energy is continuing efforts to support community-centered projects to manage organic waste and recover valuable nutrients and energy from these streams. The Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office selected a second cohort of communities in 2022. This program pairs towns, cities, and counties with subject matter experts and analysts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The 17 communities selected will explore a diverse set of waste streams, technology options, and solutions, and analyses tailored to their individual needs and objectives.

From the program there have been some key takeaways. Foremost, letting the communities lead these discussions and define the problems they are seeking to solve is critical. It could be limited landfill capacity, an incinerator that is closing, or a new regulation that is forthcoming. In order for a project to ultimately be successful and be sustainable in the community, they must also be included in identifying the solution. There are many examples where this is not the case, and the technology or process that is implemented ultimately does not meet the needs of the community or produce a desired/useful product or service.

Next, case studies are often sought after by these communities. Processes for converting waste to products or energy are expensive and communities want to see real operating facilities before making an investment of their own. And lastly, cost-benefit analyses are commonly requested. This reflects the fact that oftentimes the operating costs and environmental impacts of technologies are closely held by vendors. This can make it difficult for decision makers to assess information. Having neutral third-party experts at the National Laboratories can help communities parse through this information.

As entities have matured through these partnerships, the Bioenergy Technologies Office subsequently created a funding opportunity specifically for the next stage of these community-led efforts. In August 2022, four entities were announced as recipients for direct funding to perform detailed feasibility studies on these waste solutions as well as providing funding for them to test the solutions in their communities. This program was designed with the lessons learned above in mind. All four projects are led by the communities themselves and will aim to provide valuable operational data to other interested communities who might want to replicate the project. These communities will be funded to perform detailed evaluation of the economics, environmental impacts, and social sustainability of these processes. All these ultimately can assist the community decision makers in deciding if a full-scale solution is appropriate for their community. Summaries of the individual projects can be found in the link above.

And last but not least, the program is currently accepting applications for the 2023 cohort! Local governments based in the United States can apply here at no cost.


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For more info, please, contact IEA Task Member  Beau Hoffman

Picture: Map of 2021 and 2022 partners of the NREL Waste to Energy Technical Assistance Program