King of Prussia inventor buys former Titus Generating Station in Berks County

A King of Prussia inventor has purchased the former Titus Generating Station in Cumru Township from GenOn for $200,000, according to Berks County records.

Joe D’Ascenzo wants to turn the former coal plant into a plastic recycling facility that would take trash and turn it into plastic pellets. He envisions the property around it as a hub for other recycling businesses.

It would be the first facility in the United States for ReFined Plastics LLC, according to D’Ascenzo, who is president and chief technology officer of the six-year-old advanced recycling company. D’Ascenzo, a Chester County native and graduate of Ursinus College, has a master’s degree in molecular biology from Drexel University. He helped develop the process, some of which is patented.

Six buildings and 139 acres of the former Titus property on Poplar Neck Road were sold to D’Ascenzo’s  Recycle the World Inc., a nonprofit company that says it’s focused on research and development of technologies to decrease, and eventually eliminate, the need for landfills.

GenOn, a bankrupt energy company based in Texas, confirmed the sale but declined comment.

In March, GenOn conveyed another Titus tract that contains an ash pile to Trogon Development, a company based in Puerto Rico that is a subsidiary of Capexel. Trogon also acquired two retired coal plants in Pennsylvania and three coal ash landfills. Capexel specializes in acquiring brownfields and developing them for reuse.

In April 2020, an environmental covenant, a deed restriction that gives the state Department of Environmental Protection oversight, was placed on the property.

What’s next for Titus

D’Asenzo had been negotiating to buy the property for three years but had access to it well before the deal closed. Most recently he had suffered $3 million loss due to damage when vandals attempted to steal copper there.

D’Ascenzo estimated the operation will need at least 40 different permits. He expects the process to take two years and $120 million to build.

“It will be at least a year and a half until we get the sewer and water,” he said.

D’Ascenzo expects to immediately begin hiring about 20 people to start cleaning up the grounds and 150 to 170 once the project is completed. He plans to set up an office in Reading and be more present in the area as he seeks community support.

He said agreements with companies that want to locate in tracts near Recycle the World are in the works but declined to reveal details.

“It’s wonderfully exciting,” D’Ascenzo said. “It’s taken us about three years to get to this point.”

The company received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which it can access now that the sale is complete.

D’Ascenzo said previously that he has spoken with representatives of Western Berks Landfill, which is an adjacent property and could be a source of waste to convert to plastic. No deals or agreements have been made, he said.

The facility would process 1,600 tons of waste per day, D’Ascenzo said.

About 98% of the waste would be converted to virgin grade pellets for use in the plastics industry. The rest would be sorted for recycling or converted into fuel.

Titus Station’s three existing boilers with turbines would be recommissioned to provide renewable energy to the grid, its consultant, Toronto-based DigiMax, wrote in a March 2020 news release.

ReFined Plastics uses a process called pyrolysis, which is high heat without oxygen to break down waste. It is has been a mechanism to turn plastic waste into jet fuel.

The pellets would be virgin grade, meaning they are a quality that could be used by a variety of plastic manufacturers. The material won’t originate in the recycle bin but will come from household trash.

Not without controversy

The kind of recycling proposed for Titus has met opposition from groups such as the Clean Air Council when it was included in new regulations.

Last year, a law was introduced for advanced recycling adding definitions of advanced recycling, including operations such as gasification, pyrolysis and post-use polymers to state solid waste law. It allows burning plastic waste to be considered recycling and be less regulated, critics claimed. It had bipartisan support and was signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in November.

D’Ascenzo hailed it then as opening up a new economy for Pennsylvania.

A storied, historic property

Titus Generating Station in 2013
The Titus Generating Station along Route 422 in Cumru Township

The storied coal-generating plant that towered over West Shore Bypass and along the Schuylkill River has been part of the fabric of Berks County for decades. 

Built in 1948 by Metropolitan Edison Co., Titus was named after former Met-Ed President O. Titus and was completed in 1951, but did not go online until 1953. The site was selected because of its access to water and coal. Until its closure, coal arrived by Norfolk Southern rail cars as it did in the 1950s. It drew about 2 million gallons of water a day from the Schuylkill for its cooling tower.

The aging power plant began deactivation Sept. 1, 2013, after multiple owners tried to keep up with increasingly rigorous environmental regulations.

Titus Station, which had three coal-fired boilers and two gas-fired or oil-fired combustion turbines with a capacity of 274 megawatts, was fully decommissioned in June 2014.

It was one of hundreds of coal-fired plants in the United States that have been decommissioned in favor of cleaner natural gas.


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