Garbage In, Power Out
A recent issue of The Marketplace magazine featured an amazing report about how two cousins, Dennis Dick and Roger Tiessen, are managing to turn garbage into heat, electricity and fertilizer in the Leamington, Ontario region through Seacliff Energy Ltd., a company they founded.
Their project began in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when fuel prices skyrocketed. After a lot of research and numerous trips to Europe, they settled on an Austrian, two-stage digester system. “In short, the process digests waste organic materials to form biogas, which fuels a Caterpillar engine which drives a high-efficiency, low-emission generator.”
The process involves collecting 750 tons of organic waste every week. Some of it comes from greenhouse waste but most of it comes from food processors and grocery stores that normally ship unwanted food products to local landfills. This “waste” material is mixed into a slurry and fed to the digesters where it is fermented. This produces biogas to run the engine which powers a generator. Thermal heat from this process is captured to create hot water to help the digestion process and heat an adjacent greenhouse. The electricity produced is sold to the Ontario Power Authority; enough to power about 1200 homes.
What remains after the digestion process is complete is a “digestate” rich in nutrients. This provides enough fertilizer to grow 2000 acres of corn annually. Another advantage of this process is that large amounts of methane are captured, a product that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. And, of course, there is a massive advantage to diverting 70,000 tons of “waste” material a year from local landfills.
Any way you cut it, it is a win-win situation for Dennis and Roger, the electrical power company, local farmers who use the fertilizer and the environment. Of course this is only part of the story. There were a lot of hurdles to overcome before the first phase of this project got off the ground. There was a lot of frustration dealing with 25 different government agencies as well as overcoming many engineering challenges. The cousins report that sometimes the process of setting up the operation was like “pushing a wet noodle,” other times a “nightmare.”
But with persistence, many people who supported them, and a lot of prayer, Dennis and Roger say it appears they are succeeding in bringing this European process to North America. While some things remain to be buttoned down, they say, for the most part they are on track. Tiessen jokes that while he and Dennis are perhaps “the only nutbars who would take on something like this,” they are pleased with the way things have turned out. And they look forward to helping other companies interested in a similar venture.
Would such a system be suitable for Southeastern Manitoba? Maybe yes, maybe no. In any case, this story does provide inspiration for all of us to find ways of rescuing “waste” from the landfill and turning it into something useful.
This post was prepared by Jack Heppner of the South Eastman Transition Initiative.