Alta. biodigester switches from manure to municipal waste

Growing Power made the move because municipalities are paying it to turn their garbage into electricity

The two biodigesters that were originally designed to turn feedlot manure into electricity are now using municipal waste as their main energy source, says the company that designed the technology.

Changing economics have convinced the owners of the Growing Power Hairy Hill Biogas project to use mostly organic waste from Edmonton and surrounding municipalities.

“The facility at Hairy Hill used to be a straight manure digester and it has now gone to 90 percent municipal waste. It has converted to a municipal digester from a manure digester,” said Shane Chrapko, a co-chief executive officer of Himark BioGas.

“We do take a little manure now and again, but it’s mostly municipal.”

The biodigesters were built next to Highland Feeders near Hairy Hill, Alta., in 2005.

Chrapko said the switch from manure to municipal waste was strictly about economics.

“Rather than it going to land fill and being wasted, the project is getting paid to take the material, and it is not going into land fill.”

The biodigester uses about 50 tonnes of manure and 300 to 400 tonnes of municipal waste a year to produce 2.4 megawatts of electricity.

The municipal waste includes leaves and food.

Most of the 500 tonnes of manure that the feedlot produces is now hauled onto fields.

“The manure from the feedlot is still being utilized as nutrients on crop land surrounding the feedlot and there is plans to expand that again using manure out of the feedlot,” he said.

“This was an economic opportunity that landed in their lap.”

Chrapko said construction has started on a third biodigester that will also use manure and other waste.

Municipalities started hauling waste to the facility on a trial basis in 2012.

The biogas project at Hairy Hill was the first large scale biodigester built using technology developed through Himark BioGas, but the Western Plains Energy biogas project that was built in Kansas in 2011 using the same technology is now one of the largest biogas plants in the world.

It can take up to 2,800 tonnes of dry material and 1,000 tonnes of wet material per year, including cattle manure, ethanol plant waste, slaughterhouse waste and municipal organic waste.

It has the capacity to produce 11 megawatts of electricity a year.

Himark BioGas’s technology is also being used to build three biogas facilities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to recycle food waste to produce fertilizer and electricity.

Chrapko said biodigesters should be scattered across North America as a way to create electricity and reduce waste, but it is unlikely to happen until politicians create policies that encourage bioenergy projects.

Oil, gas, coal, solar and wind energy all have policies and incentives to encourage their development, but biogas doesn’t have the same policy backing, he added.

“In some ways it’s a crying shame that energy potential from all the manure is getting wasted, or the vast majority of manure is being wasted,” he said.

“Our politicians haven’t been willing to put in the policy that makes the industry take off. They chip away at it and give it lots of lip service, but they haven’t firmly backed the industry.”

There are 7,000 biodigesters in Germany, compared to 178 in North America.

Chrapko said the kind of policies that are in place in Germany would encourage the construction of 25,000 to 30,000 facilities in North America.

“To go from 178 to 25,000 you need incentives, or proper green energy premiums, or proper teeth in regulations to not spread raw manure ad nauseam on land,” he said.

“All of that energy potential of that manure, when it is handled in traditional methods, the energy in that manure is wasted. When you run manure through a digester, you harvest the energy, and all the nutrients in the manure are still there.”

Contact mary.macarthur@producer.com

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