A South Korean company that uses a high-tech processing system to dispose of garbage and other wastes created by humans and farm animals — while also generating electricity to power homes and businesses — plans to build and operate a facility in Russell County.
PER Kentec, which has a North American office in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth, laid out its hopes and expectations during a press conference held Friday by the Russell County Commission in Phenix City.
The bottom line: Russell County is poised to become home to the first U.S. waste treatment plant for PER Kentec, initially creating 25 to 30 jobs, but also serving as a showpiece model for what the company can do for cities and counties across the U.S. and globally.
“The Russell County Commission has made a courageous and bold decision to make a statement (promoting) a safe environment for future generations,” said Mathias Lee, chief executive officer of PER Kentec North America. “We are excited and ready to go to work.”
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There’s still much work to be done before construction would begin on a facility somewhere in Russell County, Lee and others said Friday. That includes the plant’s design, permitting and licensing, although the company says it already has met with state environmental agencies to let them know of their proposal.
“There’s no other technology that can do this,” Lee said of the treatment process that his company has used for nearly two decades in South Korea and elsewhere, including in Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. Projects are now getting started in Finland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The firm has 14 plants up and running worldwide, the oldest having operated about 17 years with no major problems, he said.
“This technology can treat any combustible waste — you name it — sewer sludge, farm wastes, animal excrement,” the CEO said. “It’s completely eco-friendly and can produce electricity,” which in this case would be sold to Alabama Power Co. Waste that can be treated — essentially incinerated at extremely high temperatures — include tires and materials used in hospitals.
A facility in Russell County would be major in that it will serve as a launching point for PER Kentec marketing its abilities and services to municipalities and county governments across America, the company said. It also could set up Russell County for a possible plant to manufacture and assemble materials to be used in the construction and operation of other treatment facilities in the U.S. That, too, would mean more jobs, although the firm on Friday did not have a number for how many positions it might bring.
Per Kentec said its push in the U.S. is important considering communities everywhere have been feeding garbage and trash into their landfills for decades. As the landfills become full, another one must be opened. As they are closed, the costs of maintaining them safely and environmentally friendly under federal and state laws can be very expensive.
Lee said his company’s research has shown that more than 1,000 plants such as that planned for Russell County are needed in the United States. It’s a simple matter of economics combined with the fact that so much waste is produced globally every day and has to be treated. Otherwise, there can be soil, water and air problems that include methane gas leakage from landfills as the waste rots.
Aside from helping to solve the constant flow of waste into existing landfills, the company’s strategy also includes pitching to communities the benefits of “reclaiming” land by digging up old landfill materials and processing them through the PER Kentec plant systems.
“In the long term, we feel like we offer a very economical and very feasible way (to deal with the landfill issue,) because we’re going to be generating power to help pay for the plant,” said Nick Autrey, corporate liaison for PER Kentec.
The clincher is that a typical facility needs about 100 tons of garbage daily to operate around the clock, with that amount of waste capable of producing up to 5,000 kilowatts an hour, which can power thousands of homes, depending upon their size.
A major substation will be needed near the treatment facility to transfer the electricity to a larger grid. Autrey said company officials will return to Russell County in late October to take a look at possible plant sites.
“The county commission is being very gracious to offer their transfer station, where they’re currently taking their trash,” he said. “But those options are still being investigated and we’re working with Alabama Power Co. to find the most optimum spot ... They (Russell County) have a perfect place down there on Poorhouse Road that they maintain, and there are other sites that they have available.”
Autrey pegged the cost of the waste treatment plant in Russell County at $27.5 million. He said the company plans to pick up the tab for that initial facility, but as expansion occurs across the U.S., cities themselves might want to pay for the facilities and build them — using the Per Kentec technology — to save money long term on waste disposal.
Cost savings can add up when a city or county puts its mind to it, said Carl Currington, District 2 Russell County Commissioner and a former county sanitation director. He estimated there were savings of about $300,000 when he recommended that a trash transfer station be built on Poorhouse Road so that waste could be centralized and trucked to a landfill in Georgia’s Taylor County.
“We send three trailers a day (to Taylor County). That’s over 100 tons a day out of this county,” he said.
Victor Cross, president of the Phenix City-Russell County Chamber of Commerce, said what PER Kentec is pledging to bring to the area has “phenomenal potential” due to the fact that it will both create jobs and solve a problem that every city in the U.S. has to deal with.
“Everybody’s got solid waste and everybody’s got to deal with solid waste, and right now they’re putting it into landfills,” he said. “The beauty about this facility is all of those places all over the United States and around the world ... with this you can reclaim that landfill. Right now all you can do is put a park on it. But you go in with this technology and dig all of this up, and you can reclaim it and then you’ve got all of this land.”
Peggy Martin, Russell County Commissioner from District 3 and a former Phenix City mayor, said she looks forward to the plant serving as a “model” of sorts for PER Kentec and bringing visitors from other areas of the country and beyond to check out the technology and how it can help them.
“They’re putting Alabama on the global map,” she said. “And it means jobs, which we desperately need in our county.”
The largest corporate employer in Russell County now is the WestRock paper mill in Cottonton, Ala., with it having about 800 on its payroll. It formerly was known as MeadWestvaco.
Another major business employer in Phenix Industrial Park is Alatrade, a chicken-processing operation that has more than 700 workers. Cross said that’s up from the 500 jobs the company started with after he recruited them to the area six years ago.