New Biogas Energy Plant opens

Tuesday, December 18, 2007 | 5:13 p.m. CST; updated 3:37 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
Retired engineer Karl Evans surveys the biogas energy conversion machinery at the Biogas Energy Plant at the landfill on Tuesday.

COLUMBIA — Beginning early next year, Columbia residents who set their trash at curbside will actually be contributing to the city’s renewable energy portfolio. Columbia’s Biogas Energy Plant opened Tuesday.

“It’s an exciting day for us in Columbia,” said John Glascock, director of Public Works and interim director of Water and Light. “Who knew that one day we would be able to pick up your trash and send it back to your home in the form of electricity?”

Powerful trash

The new Biogas Energy Plant at the Columbia landfill turns trash into electricity. Here is how it works: • When your trsh arrives at the landfill it is buried. • The landfill waste decomposes and produces methane. • 47 vertical wells, scattered around the landfill and surrounded by gravel, tap the ground. • Slits in pipes that are part of the well system vacuum up landfill gas before it escapes into the atmosphere. • The pipes bring the gas to a central location, and a blower pushes the gas into the energy plant. • The blower feeds the gas into the gas engines. • The pistons in the engine power a turbine that spins to generate the energy. • The energy is sent to transformers at 12,500 volts and is distributed into the city. Source: Michael Carolan of Sexton Energy

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Glascock was one of several speakers during a dedication ceremony on Tuesday at the Columbia landfill, where the new alternative energy plant was built. He said the actual production of energy from landfill gas should begin mid-January.

The Biogas Energy Plant will turn landfill gas into energy to provide power to Columbia. Landfill waste produces 50 percent methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. City officials project that in its first year the plant will supply about 1.5 percent of Columbia’s energy use per year and provide enough power to supply nearly 1,500 homes.

As the amount of waste produced in Columbia continues to grow, so does the landfill. So in 2006, Public Works officials decided they ought to find an economic use for all the methane the landfill creates. The City Council that year contracted with the Water and Light Department to build the biogas plant. One reason the Water and Light Department was interested is a voter-approved mandate to increase the amount of energy the city gets from renewable sources.

Michael Carolan of Sexton Energy, the general contractor for the project, explained how the plant works to the 50 or so people who attended. Columbia, he noted, is the first city in Missouri to have a biogas energy plant.

“This project shows progressions for the city of Columbia,” said Carolan.

The project also got a boost from the approval of Senate Bill 54 in 2007, which allowed an expansion of the Columbia landfill plant.

City officials hope to build a bioreactor at the landfill within the next five years. Bioreactors use water to rapidly break down organic waste. They accelerate decomposition, producing more methane and, hence, more renewable energy. The biogas plant could produce as much as 2.5 percent of Columbia’s electricity needs within the next five to 10 years, according to city projections.

“We are becoming more environmentally conscious,” Glascock said, referring to the people of Columbia. “We are doing everything we can do to protect the environment.”

The biogas plant cost a total of $2.85 million and was financed in part by an electric bond issue approved by voters in 2006.

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