The conversion of gasses created by human and animal waste into reusable energy may sound futuristic, but it’s a technology slowly being implemented in communities across the country.
And if things go as planned, by 2021, Moline will be one of the many cities that turns methane gas from organic waste products into natural gas that can fuel vehicles, heat homes and cook food in households with gas appliances.
City council members on Tuesday gave final approval to spending $98,618 for professional engineering services to study the feasibility of biogas conversion from organic waste to energy at the South Slope Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Public Works Director J.D. Schulte said the study, being done by CDM Smith Inc., would begin immediately and should be concluded by spring.
“It’s cool, I’m telling you,” Schulte said. “It’s not so visionary that we don’t have examples to show where people have done this.”
Schulte said one such example was Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Indiana. The dairy converts methane from animal waste into reusable energy that is used to power portions of the farm.
Schulte said the city’s facilities can be upgraded and adjusted for the same conversion.
“We have about 1.2 million gallons of capacity in these anaerobic digesters,” Schulte said. “That’s what the solid waste goes into. You want to use the highest-strength waste that produces the most gas.”
In addition to human waste brought into the wastewater plant, disposed food products from area restaurants and animal byproducts from nearby processing plants also will work.
“I know many different industries in this area that have high-strength waste like that, and they have to have it trucked away,” Schulte said. “There aren’t any receiving stations in the area right now that can take the capacity they need. The study will examine all that, too.”
Schulte said he and Utilities General Manager Tony Loete experimented first by stimulating gas production from fats, oils and greases.
“They already produce gas at a level that we use for the boilers to heat the digesters,” Schulte said. “We have to heat it up to stimulate that process. It’s about triple the gas production.
“We know our chemistry is adequate for trying to stimulate gas production. Now we have to access that excess capacity in those digesters. There could be 80 percent additional capacity if we increase temperatures, change some of the design, change some of the chemistry and put in more organics. There is the possibility they could become significant energy producers.”
The feasibility study will determine what types of equipment and renovations are needed to the South Slope plant in order to conduct biogas conversion. Once completed, Schulte said the ability of the city to convert and create its own energy will be a game-changer.
“You can scrub it up to the point you can put it back into the pipeline or put it into vehicles,” he said.
Schulte said the city currently has about 30 vehicles that run on compressed natural gas.