BioCycle August 2005, Vol. 46, No. 8, p. 4
SEVERAL weeks ago, I had an opportunity to tour two organics processing facilities using anaerobic digestion to manage municipal solid waste. To our knowledge, these are the only two full-scale facilities in North America managing a municipal waste stream with anaerobic digestion (AD) technology. Both facilities, one in the city of Toronto and the other in nearby Newmarket, Ontario, receive residential source separated organics (SSO) collected curbside. (An article on these projects starts on page 42 of this issue.)
Toronto operates its AD plant as a demonstration facility. It receives an average of 100 metric tons/day of SSO. The primary glitch at this installation is that the methane generated in the digester is flared. The Newmarket facility is a private venture, operated by Halton Recycling Ltd. It is designed to process 400 metric tons/day of organic residuals. Last fall, Halton Recycling installed composting equipment at the site. Methane generated by the process is captured and used to power facility operations. Halton Recycling is working through some odor management issues at the plant. The takeaway lesson here, like at the city of Toronto’s plant, is that the marriage of organics and energy generation is quite viable in North America, as has been proven elsewhere in the world, primarily in Europe. The bonus at the Newmarket facility is the on-site capability to produce compost.
The following day, I was introduced to Tom Smith of Global Earth Products in Utopia, Ontario. Smith developed a concrete channel composting system to process liquid and solid manures. Eventually, he partnered with someone whose background is in energy recovery. Their combined knowledge and experience led to development of a heat extraction system that captures much of the by-product heat energy created by microbial activity in the composting process. A facility footprint using the Global Earth System includes a heating source for a greenhouse (using compost from the operation to grow plants), and cogeneration using a low temperature turbine to produce saleable electricity.
The plant tours and meetings in the Toronto region gave me renewed hope for the strong connection between organics diversion and renewable energy, not to mention the direct connect into composting. They were an excellent prelude to BioCycle’s 5th Annual Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling conference next month in Madison, Wisconsin (see pages 15-17 for full program). Clearly, technology and operational glitches have to be worked out, but as the organics processing supervisor of the city of Toronto’s AD facility noted, “the plant does what it is supposed to do in the way it is supposed to be running.” That is especially encouraging news, as the energy recovery piece – in this case utilizing the methane instead of flaring it – is pretty much taken care of with off-the-shelf technologies.
Reflecting on all of this led to a phrase popping into my head, which conveniently seemed to work for the title of this month’s editorial. The “Potential of Power” is what is embodied in the next wave of organics diversion from landfills and more environmentally sound management of livestock waste. These projects waiting to happen are ripe with the potential of power generation. Entrepreneurs, academic researchers and many others have spent many years putting the pieces of this puzzle together.
The next step is making the commitment to change. In our energy-consuming world that is becoming impaired by global climate change from use of fossil fuels, these technologies with the potential of power (and all the related benefits of healthy soils and cleaner water) are sound, intelligent investments, both financially and environmentally. This, in short, is the “Power of Potential.” – N.G.