Panel gets information about organic waste processing system

A system that can transform nearly any organic waste into fuel or other products without incineration was the subject of a discussion Tuesday during a meeting of the County Council’s Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management.

At the request of council members Valerie Poindexter and Rebecca Villegas, the committee heard a presentation by Michael Lurvey, a scientist who invented a waste-processing system that can reduce organic waste into activated carbon or liquid fuel with minimal space or emissions.

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The system — Thermal Conversion of Organic Material, or TCOM — was implemented in a test facility on Oahu and is specifically designed be a sustainable energy solution for small island communities, Lurvey said.

Lurvey, the founder and CEO of Honolulu startup Carbon Geo-Tek Consultants Inc., said TCOM is a simple combination of already existing technologies.

Organic waste is compressed at about 75 pounds per square inch within a sealed container and heated at 400 degrees Celsius — more than 750 degrees Fahrenheit. After about 45 minutes, the waste is converted into fuel or activated carbon, which has a number of industrial uses including improving soil health and filtering toxins.

Lurvey said the system can process 3 tons of waste an hour, and produces 700 pounds of activated carbon or 40 gallons of fuel during that time.

Lurvey’s presentation comes at a difficult time for the county’s waste management programs. Changes in global recycling markets have greatly reduced the amount of items that can be recycled, while county officials look for ways to reduce the significant buildup of waste at the county’s two landfills.

While some council members appeared interested in Lurvey’s system, they repeatedly emphasized that the meeting was for informational purposes only and that the county is not currently considering adopting it.

“We’re just exploring what options are out there,” said Councilman Tim Richards, who commended Lurvey for suggesting a system that has origins in Hawaii rather than a system provided by a mainland startup.

Other members identified problems with TCOM. Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy noted that state statutes do not allow the county to reclaim waste from its landfills, which would reduce the effectiveness of the system in eliminating the county’s waste problem.

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Before such a system could be adopted, Lee Loy said, the state Legislature would have to be amended statutes to allow landfill reclamation, which could take years.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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