One of the most difficult parts of turning a
town's waste into usable energy isn't the process itself—it's winning
over community members who are most affected by landfills, according to
Andy Gotsch, process engineer for Fiberight, a Maryland-based clean-technology startup that transforms waste into renewable biofuels.
You would think the myriad logistical and technical obstacles facing
the clean-technology company would be the largest hurdles to the
company’s success. But, in large part, the sheer innovation of the
processes Fiberight uses has caused some people to become uneasy and
mistrustful of the science behind transforming post-recycled municipal
solid wastes and other organic feedstock into next-generation renewable
“The hardest thing for us to do was to convince the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] that we’re actually recycling because
the first thing people think when they hear we’re making trash into
energy is incineration,” Gotsch says.
But since Fiberight launched in 2007, it’s made strides in getting
buy-in from agencies and the community. Recently, the biofuels company
was guaranteed a $25-million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s biorefinery program.
Making Use of an Abundant Resource: Trash.
cellulosic ethanol and biogas through a series of complex processes.
These are built on a customized sorting procedure, pulping, enzymatic
hydrolysis, and advanced recycling techniques. In other words, the
company takes a community’s trash and transforms it into usable biofuel.
The company first established its pilot plant in Lawrenceville, Va.
seven years ago, after purchasing a facility the previous owner had been
using to process fiber to create organic insulation.
“Fiberight purchased that plant and saw value in what the fiber could
do, which in our case is convert it into C5 and C6 sugars [C5 (pentose)
and C6 (hexose) act similar to yeast in creating alcohol—or cellulosic
ethanol in this case], and then later ferment it into ethanol or
butanol, depending on what the market’s striving for,” Gotsch says.
A Need for Manpower.
Fiberight’s team of engineers and
scientists developed and streamlined procedures to achieve expected
results and turn a profit. But finding capable hands to manage
engineering operations had been a perennial challenge.
Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul attempted to supplement a shortage in
manpower by hiring an independent professional engineering agency to
manage drafting and designing the recycling facilities. Ultimately, the
strategy backfired because of cost overruns and less-than-positive
results. The cost of a single phone call to the agency outweighed the
return on investment.
Fiberight had a firm understanding of its own processes and design,
but they needed the right people and tools. At that point, Gotsch and
several other in-house engineers were brought on board, two of whom use
Autodesk Plant Design Suite 2014—particularly AutoCAD Plant 3D—to save
costs and close the gap between Fiberight and larger firms.
Drawing on the Benefits of Building Information Modeling.Fiberight is on a tight deadline to open its first commercial facility
in Blairstown, Iowa later in 2014, and—using its BIM
capabilities—AutoCAD Plant 3D is making it possible to improve
collaboration with vendors and contractors.
Plant 3D has built in ASME and ANSI industry standards for equipment,
which makes ordering parts more efficient and accurate. For instance,
the Iowa facility will use a lot of stainless-steel piping, and when
Gotsch routes pipes, the software knows the exact flange size and
“It’s not about ballpark quotes,” Gotsch says. “The company gets
exact estimates, which helps Fiberight with savings and costs—because
with construction, there are always cost overruns.”
After Gotsch sends the components out in a 3D model, the vendor or
contractor can import the model, and it gives them accurate take
offs—pipe locations, distance lengths, and elbows.
One of the big components to designing a plant like Fiberight’s
facility in Iowa is having P&IDs (piping and instrument diagrams),
effectively supplied by AutoCAD P&ID. The software demonstrates the
benefits of BIM by allowing you to click on and identify specific pieces
of equipment labeled in the P&ID and tabulate everything from
manufacturer information, flow rates, and design sizing.
“We were actually able to route the pipe on the pipe rack in our 3D
model, pull out the pipe rack, send it to our pipe-rack vendor, and they
were able to give us a quote within a day based on constructability and
installation,” Gotsch says.
Blairstown: A Key Partner.
Fiberight chose Eastern Iowa for
its facility because legislators there have mandated that local
communities and governments bring their trash to a more sustainable
outlet such as Fiberight, which can recycle waste in a cleaner and
greener format. Of the trash Fiberight takes in, only 15 to 20 percent
goes to a landfill—it’s eliminating 80 percent of the waste.
“The biggest thing is educating people,” Gotsch says. “In Iowa, we’re
putting together an action group that’s going to go around and educate
the community on our process.”
This strategy has already paid off after CEO Craig Stuart-Paul spoke
at the Marion Economic Development Co. annual meeting. The Marion City
Council approved tax-increment financing worth $850,000 for a facility measuring 50,000 square feet in the Eastern Iowa town.
This second location will play a crucial role in supporting the role of
the Blairstown facility when it opens later this year.
Challenging the Status Quo. Not every process
is smooth sailing for the clean-tech startup, though. It can be
challenging for Gotsch to get his hands on customized equipment from
vendors because Fiberight takes an unorthodox approach in integrating
“Some of the equipment has long lead, meaning it’s going to take eight months to construct one of these things,” Gotsch says.
For instance, Fiberight uses a specialized washing tunnel for
processing municipal solid waste into feedstock for the production of
compressed biogas and cellulosic ethanol. The company that supplies the
washing tunnel builds them for naval ships, which use them to wash bulk
loads of clothing in a centralized unit.
Fiberight, however, had different plans, and approached the company
by saying, “We want to use your washer tunnel, but not for clothes—for
trash,” Gotsch recalls. Much like the community in Iowa that will
eventually benefit from Fiberight’s new facility, many suppliers
required some assurance.
According to Gotsch, Fiberight spent a lot of time educating its
partners on the company’s process of converting waste into fuel and the
need to wash the garbage beforehand. Fiberight also spent time
convincing them the washer tunnel supplier’s equipment could be used as
Fiberight planned. “They don’t feel comfortable with it because they’ve
never done it,” he says.
With plans in the works for the Blairstown plant, this could be a
potentially serious obstacle. “If we’re trying to get this plant up and
running before the end of this year, that makes things really tight,”
Gotsch says. “One of the biggest challenges is trying to schedule when
we’re going to order equipment so that it cascades in the order that we
need to receive it.” Fortunately, by developing strong relationships
with suppliers, Fiberight is getting a firmer idea of when equipment
will be available.
Fiberight has seen its processes change
over the past seven years because the company is always trying to
improve the process, whether at its pilot plant in Virginia or with its
forthcoming facility in Iowa. “We’re always trying to consolidate the
amount of equipment we need,” Gotsch says. “The bigger the plant is, the
more equipment there is, the more expensive it is, the longer it takes
to get a return on investment. So, our job is not only to make sure that
the plant works, but also to make sure it runs safely and is cost
In addition to paring down equipment, Gotsch and his team are
changing mass and energy parameters in equipment to yield a higher
conversion rate and increase profits.
Learn more about eliminating waste and saving money in construction projects by reading about BIM for prefabrication. And to learn more about Fiberight’s story, check out this video from Autodesk: