Air Pollution is Down in the Valley

Improvements abound as California landfill replaces grinder with Tier-4 compliant unit.

California has always been a bellwether state, setting precedents in everything from fashion to music to social and cultural issues. It should not be surprising, then, that the Golden State should lead the way in environmental achievement as well—and in many regards, they have. According to the Environment California Research and Policy Center, the state’s clean car standards have helped decrease air pollution from automobiles by more than 85 percent since 1975.

While those gains are impressive, much of the area’s continued air quality issues are a result of off-road diesel engines: those found in vehicles or machinery used in applications such as construction, shipping, mining, material handling, etc. To address those concerns, the state has implemented an aggressive program to move off-road diesel engines toward EPA-mandated air quality compliance by 2030. Meeting those challenges head-on, the City of Lompoc, located in what is called the Central Valley region, recently took delivery of a new Morbark 3800 grinder for use at its area landfill. Not only is the new unit bringing the city into compliance with Tier-4 standards, but also it has proven more productive, more efficient and lower in maintenance costs than the unit it replaced. Not a bad trade-off at all.

Taking Control

Located about 45 miles northwest of Santa Barbara and neighbored by Vandenburg Air Force Base, the City of Lompoc is home to a federal prison made famous for housing white collar criminals from the ’70s, as well as a burgeoning wine industry. Residents living in the Lompoc Valley Wasteshed—an area that includes the City of Lompoc and nearby unincorporated areas of Vandenberg Village, Mission Hills and Mesa Oaks, as well as surrounding areas—have access to a comprehensive recycling program in which almost everything, including cans, bottles, corrugated cardboard, tires, household hazardous waste and more, will find new life. Material that can’t be recycled finds its way to the Lompoc Sanitary Landfill, a 115-acre site located south of the city. According to Scotty Marshall, landfill supervisor, while tree and brush waste, yard scraps, trimmings, etc., do indeed find a secondary use, they are taken there as well.

“The city began taking in green and wood waste at the landfill about 20 years ago,” he says. “At the outset, they used a contract grinding operation, then the program grew to such a degree that, in 1997, the city purchased a grinder of their own and brought that function in-house. We’ve been doing all of our own grinding ever since.”

Undersized, Overworked

Because the Wasteshed population includes more than 52,000 residents, the volume of incoming green waste is fairly sizeable. In the past, the Solid Waste Division, which oversees the landfill operation, used an older model grinder and struggled with that volume.

Lompoc_IMG_9303“Because of its inherent design shortcomings, we could never keep up with the amount of wood/green waste received,” says Marshall. “So when it came time for replacement—part of the normal fleet replacement cycle—we took the opportunity, not just to tackle the environmental compliance issue, but also to make certain that our grinding needs would finally be met. We definitely feel we did both.”

Tackling Tier-4

To the uninitiated, Tier-4 compliance would seem to be a fairly cut-and-dried process: buy a compliant machine, fire it up and move on. However, as anyone who has had experience with government-mandated programs will attest, rarely, if ever, is that the case. For Lompoc, the process to get their new grinder online began with a request to the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District for Authority to Construct (ATC).

“The ATC is not a permit allowing us to operate the unit on a full-time basis, but rather the first step in the process to do so,” says Marshall. “It sets forth a series of conditions we must meet during the initial compliance period. These cover everything from emissions limitations to operational restrictions to monitoring procedures to recordkeeping and reporting, and more. Once we get through the compliance period, we will get the actual permit to operate.”

Newfound Benefits

While Marshall and his crew were expecting environmental improvements with the new grinder, they were impressed with the host of other benefits the unit brought to the site. An immediate reduction in manpower needed to manage the green waste processing program was just one.

“The previous grinder required two people to be onsite: one to run the loader and one to operate the grinder. The new Morbark unit, on the other hand, is controlled by the loader operator himself, so processing green waste is now a one-person operation. In addition, maintenance and operational concerns have obviously been designed for ease of use and maximum production. The previous unit had bits that were undersized for this type of operation and were constantly in need of repair or replacement. By comparison, we are getting roughly five to six times the amount of material processed before needing any kind of buildup work on the mill. That’s a huge savings for us.”

All of these benefits notwithstanding, Marshall is most impressed with the new grinder’s clutch design, which he calls a stroke of design genius.

“The new clutch instantly disengages, preventing the machine from the risk of severe damage when it encounters an unshreddable object,” he says. “Foreign objects seemingly always find their way into piles of brush and wood waste, and having a huge chunk of metal run through the mill can spell disaster for an operation like ours. This virtually eliminates that risk.”

The new Morbark 3800 was purchased through the Fowler, Calif., branch of Papé Machinery, which has locations throughout the western U.S. and is well-equipped and expertly staffed to help its customers transition to Tier-4 compliance.

Getting Even Greener

Lompoc_IMG_9232Though only in the ATC phase of the program, Lompoc Sanitary Landfill is already processing about 450 to 500 tons of green waste and wood waste per month, far in excess of what the previous machine could do.

“In the past, we could never keep up with the amount of material we got in here,” says Marshall. “Now, it is a breeze; we have the public unload into two separate piles: one for wood waste and one for green waste, and we are easily able to stay ahead of the inflow of material.”

While Lompoc is currently permitted to utilize both ground-up materials as alternative daily cover at the adjacent landfill, they are looking at other uses for it.

“We’ve been studying the feasibility of composting the green waste material,” says Marshall. “We know that this could be a valuable resource to area businesses and residents and doing so would just take the benefits of that environmentally improved grinder and extend them even further.”

A Healthier Approach

Much has been written about the challenges involved in making the switch to Tier-4 compliant machinery, yet there is certainly a compelling case to be made for doing so. According to EPA estimates, in 2030, when the current fleet of older non-road diesel engines has been fully converted to Tier-4 compliant ones, the amount of NOx (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide) released into the atmosphere will be reduced by 738,000 tons per year. That’s the equivalent of taking 700,000 diesel trucks off the road. The impact is even greater with regard to fine particulate matter. It will be reduced by 129,000 tons per year; equal to getting 2.4 million trucks off the highways.

And the direct benefits in health-related improvements are nothing to sneeze at either. The change will annually prevent 12,000 premature deaths, nearly 9,000 heart attacks, 280,000 cases of respiratory problems in children, and one million lost work days.

When those numbers become reality, Lompoc will have played a role in bringing them about. Preliminary indications are already showing a nice reduction in emissions with the new 630 HP Caterpillar Tier-4 engine. NOx levels, which are mandated to remain below 189 ppm (at 15% oxygen) have come in at 141 ppm, and Marshall says they can probably even improve upon that.

“When we purchased the Tier-4 compliant Morbark grinder, we didn’t set out to be groundbreaking in any regard,” says Marshall. “We were simply complying with regulations. But the nature of our work out here in the landfill is essentially all about maximizing resources; this is taking that approach to the next level, and that’s a pretty good feeling.”