Orange County Business Journal

FirmGreen CEO to Ex-Im Bank Advisory Committee

Chris Casacchia Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Steve Wilburn, chief executive of Newport Beach-based renewable energy provider FirmGreen Inc., has been appointed to the advisory committee of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

The Export-Import Bank helps finance the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets. In fiscal 2012 the bank approved $35.8 billion in loans for small business export sales.

Wilburn is one of 17 committee members appointed by the bank’s directors, who gained their seats through presidential appointments.

FirmGreen is in the midst of a power plant project in Brazil to produce biofuels and other renewable energy sources from the world’s largest and most notorious landfill.

It is the company’s first large-scale project to convert methane gas into clean energy, taking on the task at the mountainous Jardim Gramacho dump, which collected some 8,000 tons of garbage every day until the Brazilian government shut it down in June.

FirmGreen developed a technology that extracts methane gas from landfills, cleans it and converts it into clean biomethane gas. Clean methane from the Novo Gramacho Landfill Gas project will be transported through a 3.7-mile pipeline and sold to a nearby oil refinery run by Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

The 30-year project is valued at more than $100 million, with FirmGreen in line for a third of the deal.

The plant, which recently finished construction, will serve as a testing ground for FirmGreen as it moves from an engineering and consulting firm to more of a licensing company with a long-term goal of developing power systems in other emerging countries where energy costs are much higher than the U.S.

FirmGreen sees about $200 million in revenue annually.

Production is scheduled for January, Wilburn said.

The company partnered with Gás Verde SA and Petroleo Brasileiro on the project, which holds the potential to produce the equivalent of 22 million gasoline gallons of compressed natural gas annually.

Gás Verde was approved for a $48.6 million loan from the Export-Import Bank to help fund the Novo Gramacho project. The loan application counted on FirmGreen’s technology, and the Export-Import Bank spent nine months checking it over, according to Wilburn.

The loan generated 165 new jobs, with some at FirmGreen and the bulk at subcontractors in Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, California, Michigan, Missouri, Texas and Brazil.

Jardim Gramacho has for years attracted hundreds of pickers who every day combed through heaps of garbage searching for recyclable materials to sell.

Their plight was chronicled in the documentary Wasteland, which garnered an Academy Award nomination in 2011 for its poignant portrayal of life on the landfill.