Veolia Energy, a district energy provider to 60 downtown customers, has taken its century-old plant to zero-waste-to-landfill and is headed to zero-coal operations by the end of this year.
Eliminating coal will reduce carbon emissions the equivalent of removing 36,000 cars from the road annually, said Matt DiGeronimo, Veolia general manager for the Kansas City operations. Veolia is an international energy company that worldwide converted 42.9 million metric tons of waste into new materials and energy in 2015.
Last year, Veolia’s River Market plant produced steam and chilled water for its customers by burning 97 percent coal and 3 percent natural gas. It is now burning 100-percent natural gas and will shut down its capacity to burn coal in December.
District energy systems produce steam, hot water or chilled water at a central plant. In Kansas City, the steam and chilled water is then piped underground to individual buildings for space heating, domestic hot water heating and air conditioning. As a result, individual buildings served by a district energy system do not need their own boilers or furnaces, chillers or air conditioners. The district energy system provides that with the benefits of improved energy efficiency, reduced costs, increased reliability and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, DiGeronimo said.
In Kansas City, a 6.5-mile distribution network of steam and 2-miles of chilled water pipes provide heating and cooling to more than 4-million square feet of commercial space, including the Sprint Center, Bartle Hall, Marriott and city of Kansas City, MO. The pipeline stretches to Truman Medical Center, its most southern customer. However, DiGeronimo said the system has the capacity for a much larger area.
“District energy is the best and most economical method to reduce carbon emissions in a metropolitan area such as Kansas City,” said DiGeronimo. “We are net-zero electric energy and zero waste to landfill. Not bad for a system of energy distribution that’s been around longer than instant coffee, crossword puzzles and zippers. Sometimes there’s no school quite like the old school.”
The district energy heating and cooling process was endorsed by the United Nations Environmental Programs as the most sustainable way to heat and cools cities. DiGeronimo said district energy can produce up to 80 percent efficiency, compared to conventional power sources that produce up to 35 percent efficiency.
Veolia also uses a new technology called cogeneration to recycle waste heat generated from electricity production and convert it into usable thermal energy. The byproduct is an additional 5 megawatts of electricity that the plant needs to run its operation. As a result, it does not use additional electricity from the electric grid.
Sustainable redevelopment opportunity
The Veolia move from coal to gas will also free up a prime, 4-acre riverfront site at First and Grand streets for redevelopment.
“This is a great opportunity to do something that adds value to the city,” DiGeronimo said. He would like to find a partner interested in creating a sustainable project that meets high energy-efficiency standards.
“Increasing sustainability in a system that has contributed to Kansas City efficiency since the early 1900s should significantly improve air quality in the city and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region,” Mayor Sly James said in a statement. “Redevelopment of land in the River Market neighborhood will further enhance a booming area and boost the impact of KC Streetcar.”
Zero waste to landfill
Veolia has been working for more than a year to reduce its waste and hit a zero-waste-to-landfill goal, which would be 90 percent diversion of waste from landfills. The average compny diverts about 35 percent. After implementing several strategies, the Veolia plant is diverting 99.89 percent of its waste, DiGeronimo said.
Veolia recycles ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Annually, 60 tons of metal are recycled and almost 12,000 tons of ash are diverted from landfills to be used for ground stabilization.
“While we always recycled materials such as cardboard, plastic and paper, by teaming up with Systech, we are now able to deliver most of our non-recyclable material to them to be used as fuel,” DiGeronimo said. “The fuel replaces fossil fuels, and the ash is incorporated into the final product, Portland cement.”
Since it began sending biweekly shipments to Systech, Veolia has reduced its dumpster needs from a daily 8-cubic-yard dumpster in 2014 to a weekly 6-cubic-yard dumpster.
In 2015, Veolia won the Kansas City Industrial Council’s Gold Sustainability Award for implementing a zero-waste-to-landfill process that diverted more than 95 percent of the company’s waste from the landfill.
Photos: Rick Harmon