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Adjustments to bioreactor to produce electricity for Columbia

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Improvements on a bioreactor disposal cell could mean another step toward using renewable sources for more of Columbia's electricity.

The Columbia City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday night authorizing an agreement with Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co. to allow services to adjust the already-constructed bioreactor disposal cell at the Columbia Sanitary Landfill.

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"This is a new technology not only to us, but also the state of Missouri, and we think we need some additional help," City Manager Bill Watkins said at the meeting.

Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell Engineering has prior experience operating a bioreactor in Louisville, Ky.

When the bioreactor begins operating this spring, it should help produce more methane gas from the Columbia Landfill that can then be used to generate more electricity for the city.

Columbia has been using methane gas from landfills for electricity since June 2008. That energy accounts for 1.5 percent of the electricity used in the city. With a bioreactor, the methane gas could produce up to 2.5 percent of the electricity in the next five to 10 years, Water and Light spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said.

Voters passed an initiative in 2004 mandating that Columbia generate 5 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2012 without raising consumer rates more than 3 percent of what would have been spent using nonrenewable energy. The bioreactor would help reach that goal, Solid Waste Utility Manager Richard Wieman said.

The bioreactor will inject a dry landfill with water, turning it into a wet landfill. The process requires 40,000 gallons of water a day. Part of Burns & McDonnell's job will be figuring out how best to evenly distribute that water through the waste without causing operational problems, Wieman said.

The injection of water helps to reduce and stabilize the waste and speeds the methane-producing process. A generator at the landfill turns the gas into electricity for the community.

This type of project is not common. Only about a dozen bioreactors operate across the country, Wieman said. Because the concept is relatively new, it requires intensive monitoring, which Burns & McDonnell Engineering will also be doing.

The contract with Burns and McDonnell's will cost $233,000 to be paid from the solid waste operational fund, Wieman said. In addition to their work with the bioreactor, the company will be modernizing the landfill with new mapping technology.

Water and Light officials say consumer electric rates will remain the same.

"The cost of the bio-gas energy is in line with our other electric resources," Kaprowicz said.


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