September 29, 2003 | General


BioCycle September 2003, Vol. 44, No. 9, p. 75
Today’s commercial technologies and systems provide improved conversion of organic residuals into energy products.
Jerome Goldstein

PRODUCTION of renewable energy from organic residuals is only beginning to be appreciated. While the August blackout in the Northeast focused mostly on problems with distribution of electricity on the grid, more localized sources of power would certainly help prevent future darkness. But the blackout is only one of many driving forces for getting power from the waste stream – be it existing landfills, MSW, manure and other agricultural residues, woody materials, biosolids, mixed organics, food processing slurries, etc.
One driving force has nothing to do with minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, pollution prevention or reducing our nation’s dependence on unstable foreign oil. That driving force is the ‘good old American entrepreneurial spirit.’ The fact is that today there are more private companies making digesters, gasifiers, biodiesel converters, microturbines, and commercializing biohydrogen than ever before. Utility companies are involved as are university researchers, and composting companies along with the manufacturers of processing equipment that perform so well in the organics recycling industry – equipment that includes shredders, grinders, mixers, screens and dehydrators. Today’s technologies and systems reflect many ‘lessons learned’ in Europe and elsewhere, bringing improved conversion of organic residuals into energy products.
The bottomline message is simple and compelling: Biomass in the waste stream could (and should) become a vital part of developing a sustainable renewable source of power – for urban areas, for farms and rural areas, for food processors, for utilities, and for generators of organic residuals in agriculture, industry and municipalities. It’s simply another form of recycling, and we predict it will soon be showing up in the recycling statistics.
The agenda is now complete for the
BioCycle Third Annual Conference on Renewable Energy from Organics Recycling, which will be held November 17-19, 2003 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Topics cover public incentives and new government mandates to boost renewable energy output; the many ways to power via anaerobic digestion; the entrepreneurial role in creating green power; how renewable energy markets are advancing; utilizing biogas at wastewater treatment plants and landfills; and the role of cooperatives
This year, for the first time, there is a special ‘biohydrogen track’ that includes presentations on commercial viability for leading technologies to produce renewable hydrogen; methods that include green algae to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and heating biomass in a specialized container to produce bio-oil. Other topics on the agenda include using bacteria to convert waste-water from food processors into hydrogen and methane; a new biomass gasifier to increase hydrogen output; a low temperature approach on sugar-rich wastewater and fermenting organic wastes in an oxygen-deprived environment.
The field trips on Wednesday, November 19th will include inspection of an anaerobic digestion facility, a biomass power plant at an ecopark, and tour of an industrial biomass recovery site. The complete agenda appears on pages 16 and 17 of this issue, and includes an advance registration form.
Following are some glimpses of projects and biomass developments that will be discussed in detail at the November Conference.
Stephen Hansen of St. Paul-based Bonestroo Associates will discuss a Waste to Watts biogas generating project planned for Minnesota that will receive animal manure and high organic municipal biosolids, treat the combined wastes to meet environmental standards, and collect the biogas to create electricity. Explains Hansen:
‘The dairy industry and municipalities generate semiliquid wastes that require treatment. Dairy manure is treated to reduce odors, and municipal wastewater biosolids are treated to reduce pathogens and organic content, before being land applied for their fertilizer value. Treatment of both waste streams generates a biogas that is high in energy potential.’
The project is designed to begin with a study comprised of two phases. In Phase One, writes Hansen, the feasibility of constructing one or more facilities will be examined. Major focus will be to estimate waste volumes and biogas production; develop conceptual plans and layouts for the facilities; determine markets for the energy produced; estimate capital and operating costs, including waste hauling costs; and to estimate the price of the biogas generated energy to recover debt and operating costs. Phase One will provide sufficient information for project stakeholders to assess feasibility and to make individual decisions about proceeding with steps to implement the project.
In Phase Two, steps will be taken to implement the project, which will include tasks to establish the owner/operator entity; procure a site(s); conduct environmental and permit reviews; prepare funding applications; develop contracts and agreements, including cost and rate structures; and develop a revenue stream.
‘The benefits of the Waste to Watts Biogas Generating Project are several,’ sums up Hansen. Dairies will benefit by transferring waste handling and treatment to others and gaining pollution credits associated with the capture and combustion of methane. Municipalities will be eligible for grants to help pay for their treatment systems. Utilities will benefit from low-cost green power and local economic development. Farmers will gain the fertilizer value of the treated wastes. And citizens will benefit by having a new biopower economy in their region.
‘The net projected economic benefit for the area from this project is estimated to be $165 million in annual revenue and 1,800 new jobs,’ Hansen points out. ‘Additional benefits are to demonstrate how public infrastructure can be used to promote environmentally stable animal agriculture.’
While compiling background data on latest projects relating to topics to be discussed at the Renewable Energy Conference, we came across a number of business innovators. Bob Walker of Bixby Energy Systems in Rogers, Minnesota is a fine example with his involvement ranging from biomass stoves to home heating, electrical generation and distributed power. Walker’s company also turns organic residuals from farm and industry into fuel producing pellets.
In California, Russ Teall has been managing a five-year-old firm called Biodiesel Industries which has become a leading supplier of biodiesel from used cooking oil – supplying one million gallons per year to vehicles in Clark County, Nevada. Close to the home base of the Tennessee Valley Authority in Florence, Alabama, Phil Badger has established Renewable Oil International LLC. His technology is designed to manufacture bio-oils from varied mixtures of biomass. These are some of the companies that are converting a concept into a business and describing latest commercial advances at the Minneapolis conference. They will be the subject of a special BioCycle report this winter.
At Penn State University, Steven Van Ginkel and colleagues in the Environmental Engineering Department hope to achieve 100 percent COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand) removal via hydrogen and methane production. ‘We are targeting food processing wastewater over other substrates because it is high strength, easy to degrade, and there is a large market for our process,’ says Van Ginkel. Glucose and starch comprise the majority of the strength in food processing wastewater and are rapidly converted into hydrogen and subsequently methane.
Continues the researcher: ‘The hydrogen production stage would be our system – a small, high rate reactor system capable of converting every mole of glucose in the food processing wastewater into at least two moles of hydrogen. The methane production stage will be a UASB (upflow anaerobic sludge blanket) or an EGSB (expanded granular sludge bed) reactor depending on solids loading. This stage will remove the remaining COD in the waste. We feel that this two stage system will improve the economics over a traditional one stage UASB system. Hydrogen is a more valuable gas than methane and UASBs need flow equalization which is provided by the hydrogen bioreactor. After current research is finished, we will target real nonsterile food processing wastewater to see how our bacteria cope with a flux of bacteria coming in with the wastewater.’
At press time for this issue, the USDA and U.S. DOE announced selection of financial assistance to biomass R&D projects. (See page 76 for amounts to recipients.) Awards were made on a competitive basis for renewable energy systems as well as to make energy improvements.
At the BioCycle Conference on Renewable Energy from Organics Recycling in Minneapolis Nov. 17-19, several speakers will provide descriptions of some of these funded projects. Bill Hunt of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will discuss how biomass initiatives are boosting bioenergy output; Larry Krom of Focus on Energy will explain their impact on building a market for anaerobic digestion systems on farms.

Sign up