Biogas project still a go, but now different
REED CITY — Back in the day ... things were pretty heady. Folks were pretty excited. Then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm was fired up. Reed City municipal leaders were pumped.
Swedish Biogas was coming to town.
Late last summer, it was announced that Swedish Biogas wanted to investigate the possibility and viability of creating a co-digestion project at Reed City’s municipal wastewater treatment plant. The project would expand the facility to generate biogas for the purpose of producing affordable green electricity.
Co-digestion is a process in which feedstocks, or organic waste such as the excess product produced at the Yoplait plant are stored in a digester where it ferments without oxygen. Microorganisms break down the waste, creating a reaction that produces biogas which is made up of about 60 percent methane and 40 percent carbon dioxide.
After the biogas builds up enough pressure, it fuels an engine that turns a turbine, to produce electricity.
It was almost a sure thing.
Serious studies were undertaken beginning in the fall of 2010.
“This involves a study of the basics of plant operation — what it takes to run the plant in our community, physical and organizational changes that may need to take place, all kinds of cost studies and feasibility reviews, ” said city manager Ron Marek at the time.
If the results of the engineering study were favorable, the Swedish company would go forward with the project, said Tom Guise, CEO of Swedish Biogas’ North American operations. He said it was very likely the that the company would pursue the $5 million expansion project.
“I’m very confident that the project will go through and we’ll have a plant up and running in 18 months or so,” he said. “The probability is very high.”
Less so today — at least not as originally suggested.
The project may well still be undertaken, but in a less ‘energetic’ form.
The initial excitement is still there ... simply muted a bit.
“Biogas is still a feasible project,” reported Marek
“The extensive head-work study was indeed carried out. It identified a few points that maybe aren’t fulfilling some of the needs that all the parties had in order to move forward with this project.”
Marek noted that each of the stakeholders in the project - General Mills, the City of Reed City, the State of Michigan, and Swedish Biogas - all had specific demands that needed to be fulfilled in order to proceed with the wastewater treatment facility expansion plan suggested in the Biogas program.
“When the head-work study was completed and we looked at all the details of this program carefully, we decided there were some aspects of the plan that weren’t going to fulfill the program as we thought earlier, especially with regard to the potential for additional capacity for our significant user - General Mills - allowing for potential expansion of the facility in the future.”
So, city officials, the engineers at Swedish Biogas, and others went back to the drawing board.
“We all sat down to try and reconsider how this program could still work for all of us,” said Marek.
“This has to be an economically sound project up front before anyone is going to invest substantial funding.
“There were a lot of different things to review - a lot of different studies to undertake.”
Today, there is a new plan.
This plan involves using portions of the existing system, some reconversion and restructuring of that system, the addition of some new equipment and processing systems, some diversion of waste, and a lot more detail.
“When we put this new, very complex plan together and reviewed it in its entirety, we all were encouraged,” said Marek. “It looks like we actually have a plan that will answer the needs of all the parties involved.
“It’s a more scaled down version, but it gives us the best capacity, handles the larger portion of General Mills waste, still incorporates other waste, has room for expansion down the line, and more.
“In looking at all the numbers, this new plan looks like it would be less complicated than originally proposed.”
At this stage, engineers are fine tuning the design and trying to both anticipate and iron out any wrinkles that may pop up.
“We are to the point where stakeholders are holding meetings to discuss and possibly approve the new plan,” noted Marek.
“I will be proposing a special meeting Aug. 22 to present the plan to Council.
“This plan isn’t as big and bombastic as the original plan, but I can’t see any negatives.
“We have scrutinized the plan quite thoroughly. We want to make sure the new plant design fits us.”
City officials have set a “target” date for approval of the new plan - Sept. 1.
“We’d like to see everything in place by then,” Marek pointed out.
“We’d like to have equipment in place and ready to break ground by the spring of 2011.
“We’d love to be able to say that all systems are “Go” on this project.
“Things should start clicking into place very soon.
“I’m encouraged by this new plan.
“I’m optimistic things are going to work out and we’ll see things moving forward soon.”