A company in the Great Lakes region wants to convert trash into fuel. You might have heard of plants that burn garbage to create energy. But this plant is different. This plant would convert organic trash into ethanol. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
A company in the Great Lakes region wants to convert trash into fuel. You might have
heard of plants that burn garbage to create energy. But this plant is different. This plant
would convert organic trash into ethanol. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie
The walls of Genahol, Inc., are covered with pictures of Donald Bogner’s wife and
children. Bogner is a ruddy-looking man with a friendly attitude. He’s the kind of guy
who likes to get things done. He started Genahol seven years ago, with the idea that he
could turn paper, leaves, and grass clippings into fuel.
“The green waste is such a problem, because, what do you do with it? Well, you chop it
up, you mix manure with it, you package it, and sooner or later you finally say, hey, I
can’t sell this stuff.”
Bogner says Genahol can make fuel out nearly any plant material. A lot of green waste
winds up in landfills. But Bogner patented a new kind of process. It converts green and
paper waste to sugar, distills the sugar into alcohol and transforms the alcohol into
ethanol. Until now, ethanol has usually been made from corn or other grains. Bogner
says they’ve been surprised by how many products they can re-use to make ethanol.
Anything from stale beer, to old perfume, or factory-rejected candy…
“You just can’t imagine the volume when you start talking about Christmas candy canes.
And a bad batch of candy canes may be three million candy canes that a producer has to
destroy because they came out wrong in a batch or whatever. So, you know, three
million candy canes (laughs).”
If a Genahol facility is built, Bogner says it could convert anywhere from one hundred to
one-thousand tons of waste per day and make up to three million gallons of ethanol a
year. As long as the selling price of ethanol remains over a dollar a gallon, Bogner says
Genahol can make money. But he needs a deal. He needs a city that’s willing to let him
sort through the trash. It should be an easy sell, he says, because cities could save landfill
space and get a cut of the profits from ethanol sales.
“The hardest sell right now is that we cannot right now take them to a facility and show
them ethanol coming out of a spigot.”
And that’s the problem not only with Genahol, but with other companies that want to
convert waste to ethanol. Their ideas are theoretical. But Bogner says things are about to
change for Genahol. He’s negotiating a contract with the Solid Waste Authority of
Central Ohio, known as SWACO. It is in charge of trash in Columbus and owns one of
the largest public landfills in the country. Executive Director Mike Long is interested in
“We are always looking for new methods, cost effective methods to reduce, reuse and
recycle the waste stream to reduce reliance on landfills. That is our primary purpose at
SWACO, to reduce reliance on landfills.”
SWACO already diverts yard wastes and paper from the trash stream, but there hasn’t
been much of a market for those products. That’s why Long says contracting with
Genahol makes sense.
“It’s being approached on, I think, a very conservative point of view, small scale pilot
project. Trying to minimize the risk to SWACO and the public from a financial point of
It might be a bit of a risk. SWACO and other trash managers got burned in the mid-
1990s by waste-to-energy facilities. Some plants were forced to close because they
emitted too much pollution. Genahol’s Don Bogner says the only emissions from his
plant will be carbon dioxide, which he plans to capture and sell for industrial use.
Bogner and SWACO are negotiating one of the first deals in the nation for a trash-to-
ethanol plant. Many entrepreneurs trying to sell similar ideas are having a tough time
making a deal. Monte Shaw, an ethanol industry spokesperson, says these companies
should hang on a little longer.
“It’s always harder to be first. It’s always harder to convince investors, and banks, and
government agencies, that this is going to work. ”
The government is considering tax breaks and financial assistance to encourage new
ethanol plants. One reason the government is interested is to cut dependence on foreign
oil. Another reason, is ethanol is a good replacement for MTBE in gasoline. MTBE has
been used to reduce ozone pollution, but the chemical has contaminated water supplies
and the government wants to phase it out. Don Bogner expects the move from MTBE to
increase demand for ethanol. He’s wondering if that means Genahol will be able to turn a
“That’s what my wife asks me, are we going to make money this year?”
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant in Kent.