SOUTH BEND -- A clean energy company based in Carmel is considering locating an energy plant in the South Bend area that would vaporize waste, including garbage and solid waste, and turn it into energy.
Milton Stewart, CEO and chairman of Green Earth Energy, and Jonathan Burke, director of the city of South Bend's Municipal Energy Office, presented the idea to the County Council on Tuesday.
The proposed plant would use plasma arc gasification technology to convert waste, including general refuse and municipal solid waste, or sludge, into gas and then energy, Stewart said. If necessary, it could also convert the waste into diesel fuel.
The plant would employ between 60 and 400 people, Stewart said, and generate between 50 and 400 megawatts of energy -- enough to power tens of thousands of homes -- depending on its eventual size.
The cost to build the plant, estimated at between $117 million and $700 million, would be covered by Green Earth, Stewart said. "We would pay for the entire facility," he said, and put it "wherever there is a suitable environment" in the city or county.
South Bend is among a number of places being considered by Green Earth as a location for one of its plants, Stewart said. The company plans to build eight plants over the next couple of years in the United States. Construction on the first plant could begin as soon as next summer, he said, with a completion date of 2014.
The company, which represents an open collaboration among a number of companies in the high-tech and environmental industries, is interested in the South Bend area, Stewart said, because of the city's commitment to technology and sustainable development, as demonstrated by Ignition Park.
Richard Berger, a site planner and designer with BSA Life Structures, the architect and engineer for Ignition Park and Green Earth, and Green Earth's program manager, introduced the two parties back in May of last year.
"We're trying to look for communities that are wanting to make a difference and take a step toward the future, that's what we're looking for," Berger said.
To be considered as a possible location, the city and/or county would need to agree to finance a study to determine whether there is a sufficient waste stream in the area to support a plasma arc plant, Stewart said. The study would also look at possible locations for such a plant in the county.
The city, for its part, has identified its Organic Resource Center, on Trade Drive next to the airport, as a possible site, Burke said, "but I don't think there's a solid feeling that it has to be within the city limits."
Preferably, Stewart said, the location would be near a rail line.
The first two phases of the study, to be financed by the city and/or county, would cost $25,000 and $45,000, respectively, Stewart said. The third phase, to be financed by Green Earth, would cost $80,000.
Burke told the council on Tuesday that the city is interested in pursuing the opportunity, but that it would like the county to sign on as a partner.
"What we are hoping is that we can collaborate on the part of the study that would determine, not whether (the plant) is possible, but how big it can be and how many entities can partner together," he said.
The council seemed receptive to the idea -- members discussed how soon the county might be able to appropriate the money to finance phase one of the study -- but wanted to run it by the county Board of Commissioners first.
Council members also suggested bringing the city of Mishawaka on board.
Said Stewart, "We would like the county, the city and the surrounding towns all to participate, so we can collect the total municipal solid waste and treatment plant sludge and convert it to ... energy."
The plant, if constructed, would save the county and city money by reducing the amount of waste that each must dispose of now, Stewart said. Profit sharing would also be a part of any deal to locate here, he said.