Harness power of the potty
- Published: June 25, 2015
In his nine years as the Village Water and Wastewater Superintendent, Joe Bates has overseen a complete overhaul of the wastewater treatment plant and the near-complete redesign of a new water treatment plant, and ushered both facilities back into compliance with current Environmental Protection Agency standards. It’s more than some in that field would normally see in an entire career, he said in an interview earlier this month.
Before leaving the Village for a new job as the water plant supervisor for the City of Xenia last week, Bates signed the Village onto one more change. Beginning in May, thanks to a new contract the Village signed with Renergy, Inc., Yellow Springs municipal wastewater solids will henceforth be turned into renewable energy.
Renergy opened this year as one of the first commercial businesses in Ohio to turn biodegradable waste into energy. The company feeds a combination of municipal solid waste and waste from food processing and livestock manure to anaerobic digesters that convert the material to biogas and then electric power. According to Bill Hill, a company wastewater specialist, Renergy uses the biogas to fuel its fleet of compressed natural gas trucks as well as its energy conversion operations and aims to eventually produce enough energy to sell to power companies.
Though the waste processing technology isn’t new, according to Hill, using it to generate renewable energy in this country is. According to U.S. EPA data, for example, in 2012 Ohio had 10 large scale commercial anaerobic digesters, Michigan had six and Wisconsin, 26. Some municipalities have their own digesters to process the waste, but not many turn it into energy, Hill said. Renergy is the only commercial biogas energy producer within a 50-mile radius of Dayton.
“They have been searching for something, and this looks like it could be very beneficial to most wastewater plants,” Hill said.
Renergy has two 750,000-gallon anaerobic digesters, one in Dayton and one in Ashley, Ohio, its headquarters, as well as facilities in Palo Alto, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz. The company has a 500,000-gallon annual contract with Yellow Springs and last month began hauling about 6,000 gallons of sludge each week from the wastewater plant on Grinnell Road to the digester in Dayton. There the potent human material is mixed with other agricultural waste for a 65 percent methane harvest. The final solid waste is used as organic fertilizer for neighboring farm fields.
Prior to Renergy, Yellow Springs contracted the separation of the solids from the wastewater and stored the material in giant drying bags before it was hauled to a landfill or spread on farm fields during clement, non-growing times. Renergy has a lagoon that stores solids when it’s not good for spreading, meaning that all of the waste, so far, is eventually spread on fields instead of going to a landfill, Hill said.
Bates met Hill through the Ohio Water Environment Association. When he learned of the opportunity to have the solids hauled away for repurposing at almost the same cost the Village currently incurs for solids processing, he wanted to sign up.
“It’s a gain for the Village because it’s a break-even cost … and the fact that it can be used for energy is a plus in many people’s eyes in this community,” Bates said.
Bates’ last day with the Village was Friday, June 5. Current plant operators Brad Ault and Richard Stockton will manage both the water and wastewater facilities until the Village hires a new superintendent.
Bates has enjoyed his time with the Village, he said last week, and found particular congruence with Interim Village Managers John Weithofer, who stepped in while the plant was under investigation by the EPA for permit violations, and Kent Bristol, who had a wealth of institutional knowledge of the Village’s physical plant. Bates especially appreciated the innovative engineering work that John Eastman, who died in 2014, contributed to both the water plant and the wastewater plant, which is dedicated in his name.
“I’ve worked with some great people, and we’ve gotten a lot accomplished,” he said. “In fact, there’s nothing left to do here at [the wastewater] plant — we’ve done it all.”