Energy Recovery Operations


Apr 8, 2009

Maryland’s Harford County, located just 20 miles north of Baltimore, has been one of the country’s fastest-growing counties for more than two decades. With more than 92,000 households and estimated to exceed 100,000 in the next three years, the county boasts a population surpassing 240,000.

Included among Harford County’s residents are the military personnel and civilians who work at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a 72,500-acre military installation established in 1917 and home to the design and testing of weapons. As one can image, the civilian population, coupled with that of the military base, creates a tremendous amount of refuse.

As landfill space diminished in the 1980s, Harford County took the initiative to better handle the garbage, creating its Waste-to-Energy facility that’s designed to turn trash into an energy source for the Proving Ground. The facility, located in Joppa, is owned by the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority. It has permits to handle 360 tons of unprocessed municipal waste per day, which it burns and turns into steam in its four incinerators.

The Waste-to-Energy facility is operated by Energy Recovery Operations, which works around the clock to keep up with the massive amounts of trash and old tires brought in every day. With a staff of about 45, Energy Recovery Operations works two shifts, taking in materials, loading them into the incinerators and loading the ensuing residual material out. The residual material goes to the county landfill where it’s used as cover material.

Since it began turning garbage into steam, the Waste-to-Energy facility runs at or above 90 percent operating availability — a solid figure considering the industry standard for such operations is 85 percent — and generates an annual average of more than 635 million pounds of steam.

“Once the garbage is burned and turned into steam, it’s delivered through the underground piping system to the Proving Ground where it’s used for energy,” explained Energy Recovery’s Operations Manager Bob Bradley. “It’s a great system because it dramatically reduces the amount of material going to the landfill and at the same time, turns it into a useful end product that the Proving Ground can use to supplement its energy needs. It’s a complete win-win.”

Komatsu equipment handles mountains of trash

Keeping up with the massive mountains of trash Energy Recovery Operations handles each day takes machinery that’s durable and efficient. The company began using Komatsu wheel loaders about 15 years ago, recently adding three WA150-5s to its lineup, replacing older Komatsu WA120s. It also has a WA320 and a WA450, all purchased from Midlantic Machinery’s Baltimore branch with the help of Territory Manager Chuck Scott.

Each size of machine has its own particular function at the facility. The WA150s are used for loading trash into the incinerators, the WA450 keeps the trash piles pushed up and the WA320 is used to load the residual material left after the garbage is burned. One of the key features of the Komatsu wheel loaders is a hydrostatic transmission that offers quick travel speeds and aggressive drive into the pile.

The loaders have full auto shifting, eliminating the need for the operator to shift. An inching pedal allows for precise maneuvering into the incinerator loading area and up to a truck box for dumping.

“With the hydrostatic transmission, I can control the machine better compared to the old cable-driven systems,” said Operator Dave Williamson, who’s worked at the facility for about 10 years. “I can inch forward if I have to, but the power is there when I need it. All I have to do is push the pedal down.”

Most cost-effective equipment

Keeping machine availability high is extremely important to Energy Recovery Operations, which never shuts down. The company runs one of the 96-horsepower WA150s constantly per 12-hour shift. Working machinery that many hours, Rolling Stock Mechanic Darin Gniewek is performing 500-hour services about every month and a half.

“With the volume of garbage that comes in daily, you can imagine what it would be like if we had machinery down for an extended period of time,” said Gniewek. “We like Komatsu because it lasts, and I don’t have a lot of maintenance and repair issues. One of the things I really appreciate is that Komatsu made it easy to service the machines and extended the service hours. I can check all the fluids and service it at ground level. It’s a time saver, and that’s important to me because I’m the only mechanic here.”

As the sole mechanic, Gniewek said a solid preventive maintenance plan is a necessity, but that’s not all that keeps him from spending countless hours in the shop.

“Good preventive maintenance is obviously a key element to keeping the equipment in proper working order, but what we’ve found with Komatsu equipment is that we’re not having major issues like we were with the competitive machines we used to run,” said Gniewek. “I was rebuilding the transmissions at 7,000 hours. We’ve never had to rebuild a Komatsu transmission, and we’ve run them 12,000 to 15,000 hours before trading them. They cost less up front, and with the reduced maintenance and repairs, we’ve found Komatsu to be the most cost-effective machines for us.”

Midlantic provides additional support

Gniewek noted that Midlantic Machinery is very effective in working with him and Energy Recovery Operations. Energy Recovery purchases its parts from Midlantic and calls on Midlantic as needed for service.

“I take care of most everything, but Midlantic comes out if there’s something I need help with, such as a new feature or for warranty work,” said Gniewek. “They’ve always responded very quickly to any need we have because they understand how important uptime is to our operations. That factored into our decision to buy Komatsu equipment. Midlantic can usually have parts to me the same day or early the next.”

Keeping that relationship is key as there’s no end in sight to the amount of trash Energy Recovery Operations will continue to process.

“There seems to be an endless supply of garbage, so we’ll always have work to do,” said Bradley. “The county has started plans for a new facility because the amount of material keeps growing. We don’t expect production to go down.”