CEMEX wants to burn plastic, wood in Louisville cement kiln

(Louisville)  —  Already approved to burn scrap tires as fuel in addition to coal and petroleum coke, CEMEX Kosmos now wants to blend in scrap plastic and wood to the fuel that fires its super-hot cement kiln in southwest Louisville, according to public officials.

CEMEX representatives declined to discuss their proposal, instead issuing a brief written statement Thursday evening that it was proposing to “safely replace up to 30 percent of its kiln’s energy (and) heat demand” with waste-derived fuels as an alternative to fossil fuels including coal.

The statement said the process taps the “otherwise lost energy value of the materials, reduces the plant’s reliance on traditional fossil fuels, and preserves valuable landfill space.”

But industrial pollution has been an issue in southwest Louisville for decades. The plant is near the coal-fired Mill Creek power plant, and residents have long complained about dust and soot from both.

Denise Allgood, vice chairwoman of the Valley Village Homeowners Association, said she was not familiar with the proposal and said any change involving air pollution is likely to be sensitive.

“The (pollution) that’s coming out of that place now is of great concern,” she said. “We’ve been told by the powers that be that’s it’s better than it has ever been, but I would hope that whatever (CEMEX) is considering, they are also considering the health and welfare of the people in this area.”

Company officials have been making the regulatory rounds, speaking with officials at the state Energy and Environment Cabinet, Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District and the Louisville Metro Solid Waste Management division.

The company performed some test burns of the new fuel mix last fall in cooperation with the air district and Louisville environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council.

FitzGerald said the test burns were promising.

“It appears the utilization of (the new fuel mix) does not appear to present any public health problems or environmental issues,” FitzGerald said, adding that pollution levels actually improved.

The Kosmos plant under previous ownership ignited a controversy in the 1990s when it proposed burning scrap tires with hazardous waste. Under stiff opposition, it withdrew that proposal.

Then in the mid-2000s, it worked for several years to secure permission to burn tires, which it did during the test burns last fall, FitzGerald said. Local residents and FitzGerald participated in that process.

“When I see Tom FitzGerald putting his leg over the saddle, I feel pretty good,” said Bob Henderson , who represents the area on the Louisville Metro Council.

“Why not burn any energy if we can do it and stay within the environmental standards,” Henderson said.

FitzGerald and public officials said the fuels the company has said it wants to add include plastic and paper fibers called “fluff” from recycling facilities. Those materials are not recycled and now typically are sent to a landfill, FitzGerald said.

FitzGerald said the company has also been interested in using waste wood products as a fuel.

The company said the fuel may also include carpet and textiles.

The company will need to obtain several permits before it can proceed with its new proposed fuel mix, officials said. They include permits from the air district, the Kentucky Division of Solid Waste and a determination from the Jefferson County solid waste board that the CEMEX proposal is consistent with the county’s solid waste management plan.

CEMEX representatives met with air district staff Thursday morning and went over their plan to obtain permits and communicate with their neighbors, said Thomas Nord, district spokesman.

The air district expects the company to apply for a change in its operating permit in September, he said.

“We’re going to give it all the scrutiny it deserves,” he said, including checking on how the change might affect a full array of different pollutants.

If the district allows the fuel change, he said it would make sure to set conditions that assure emissions were kept as low as possible and within the limits of its air quality permit.


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