CONTRA COSTA – With California pushing to end the use of fossil fuels, a company based in Wyoming is bringing alternative fuel technology to the Bay Area that could help. And it all starts at the landfill.
When the trucks rumble into the West Contra Costa Landfill in Richmond these days, they’re carrying more than just refuse. They may be carrying the promise of a real alternative to fossil fuels.
“I think when we are up and running and doing what we said we could do, people are going to be pretty proud that it was Richmond, California that was the first city,” said Matt Murdock, Founder and CEO of a company called Raven SR.
In the near future, the company hopes to set up shop in a 2-acre yard at the landfill. When Raven’s equipment is in place, it will begin processing organic material–tree cuttings, yard waste and food scraps into clean burning transportation fuels.
“We can make diesel. We can make jet fuel–we can make sustainable aviation fuel. We can do hydrogen. We can do methanol. We can do ammonia. So, we can go into a lot of different pathways depending on what’s needed in the market,” said Murdock.
It’s a patented, innovative process called “Steam/CO2 Reforming.” The organic waste is shredded and heated with steam to a point where its molecules break down but never actually burn. That releases energy that can be converted to electricity and the remaining atoms can be reformed into other synthetic gasses, like hydrogen–which is one of the cleanest burning fuel alternatives on the market today.
“We essentially break down the molecules into the component parts and then rebuild it into a syn(thetic) gas,” said Murdock.
The company estimates that it can produce up to 2,000 metric tons of hydrogen annually. And it’s hard to find any downside to the project. Power to run the plant can come from the methane gas being vented from the landfill, cutting as much as 7,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the site each year. And because there is no burning, it will actually make the surrounding air cleaner.
“Overall, when we did the health risk assessment for our CEQA permitting, we actually lowered the risk of cancer up to 6,000 feet away,” Murdock said.
For a city that often has a contentious attitude toward industrial projects, the response from climate activists has been uncharacteristically positive. Julie Levin, a former CA Energy Commissioner, gave an enthusiastic endorsement to the Richmond City Council.
“I have worked on clean energy and air quality and climate change since the 1990’s. I’m an old-timer,” said Levin. “I have yet to see a project I think is as important for the local community, as well as the global climate, as Raven Energy’s project.”
Last week, city leaders voted unanimously to move the project forward and now the eyes of the country–and the world–will be on Raven SR to see if they can deliver on the promise.
“Yeah, we have a lot of people that cannot wait to come and visit the plant and play with it, throw trash in and watch it become hydrogen,” said Murdock. “And so, yeah, there’s a LOT of people watching us.”
The project is now seeking approval from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. But the equipment is modular, so it is already being constructed offsite and Murdock says they could be operating as soon as the spring of 2024.
They say great things come from modest beginnings. But who would have thought that the future of modern transportation may find its beginning at the Richmond dump?