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Industries, Universities and Local Governments Team Up to Turn Waste Into Watts

Industrial and farm waste soon may supply electricity for thousands of people because of an economic development collaboration of experts from Purdue University, industry, and city and county governments.

To make this a reality and to curb natural gas and petroleum use, planners and scientists from Purdue, central Indiana's Clinton County and city of Frankfort, and industries Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) and Indiana Clean Energy LLC (ICE) are joining forces to use waste to produce methane for conversion to electricity. Two separate facilities will be built - one for industrial waste conversion and another for hog waste - with the goal of having plants in operation by spring 2008.

"We're bringing together pieces of industry and agriculture to optimize the energy potential in waste," said Ron Turco, Purdue environmental microbiologist. "We want this project located in an area that takes full advantage of the available waste generated by the area's industrial base."

The center of the industrial waste-to-energy part of the project will be the Clinton County Industrial Park, located west of Frankfort and east of Interstate 65. ADM and ICE are among companies located in the park and participating in plans for the facility. The planners anticipate that the project will entice more industry to the area, spurring economic growth.

The overall plan is designed to contribute to gaining energy independence from non-renewable fossil fuel, providing an economic development platform, and creating teaching and research opportunities. One facility would convert food and plant waste into methane. A second facility, which would convert hog manure into methane, would be at another site centrally located to existing hog farms. The methane generated at the facilities would be used to produce electricity.

"These projects will change wastes into value-added products," said Gina Sheets, Clinton County economic development director. "It will bring together different manufacturers and producers and improve their competitiveness by reducing their costs for energy and for waste disposal."

Turco and Larry Nies, a Purdue civil engineer, are helping Sheets and other Clinton County and Frankfort city officials develop a long-range plan that considers the most efficient use of waste to produce the largest possible amount of sustainable energy. Nies, Turco and Sheets believe that the innovative energy-producing operations will encourage industrial expansion in the area.

"This is industrial symbiosis, meaning all the businesses in the area are in this together to find better energy sources," Nies said. "Some companies in the park have high organic waste to make methane. Indiana Clean Energy has excess heat to activate the microbes used to break down the waste. ADM has vegetable oil that can be used for biodiesel, with the remainder used in waste conversion.

"When you have a finite resource like petroleum and natural gas, you have to look at alternative fuel, which is one thing this plan does. In addition, changing waste into energy for homes, businesses and farms is stewardship for the environment. Throwing away waste that has value is a waste; it harms the environment and ignores a valuable resource."

The Clinton County/Frankfort plan would locate a biorefinery for converting ADM, ICE and other waste from industry into methane on five acres in the industrial park at a cost of about $12.5 million. The facility for converting hog waste will cost about $5.5 million.

A public/private partnership is contemplated to finance the cost. County officials also are seeking grant money from various sources that fund economic development and energy alternatives plans.

Sheets' office is taking proposals from private companies interested in owning waste-to-wattage operations. Nies and Turco are advising city and county officials on which of the proposals is most viable for meeting the project's objectives of sustainable energy sources, economic development, education and research.

A 2.5-mile pipeline will carry waste from the swine facilities to the conversion plant. One of the hog farms has about 6,900 pigs and the other has about 14,000.

Eventually it would be in the interest of agriculture and the environment for farmers to develop waste conversion facilities on their own properties, Nies said.

"If the energy is generated immediately rather than transported to a conversion plant, producing the energy would be less expensive and the power could be transferred into the electric grid immediately," Nies said of the European individual energy conversion operations. "Distributed energy production also would make it possible to isolate and maintain portions of the grid in the event of a power outage."

Although converting waste to energy is a novel idea in the United States, parts of Europe have been doing this for quite awhile, Turco said. The Netherlands, in particular, uses conversion facilities because access to cheap fossil fuel and hydroelectric power is lacking. That country also has strict rules about disposal of human and animal waste.

The waste-to-energy facilities in Europe are mainly the individual type that Nies recommends. The waste conversion facilities in Clinton County will be large, centralized regional energy sources. The strategy of companies and farms trading waste for energy is being negotiated.

The Clinton County project will help teach people in the United States about alternatives to fossil fuel, which can't be replaced once depleted, Turco said.

"We need to change people's mindset about waste and about fuel sources," he said. "We want these waste conversion facilities to be in place, not just to provide alternative fuel, but also so we can train students in this technology and to conduct further research on using different sources for energy supplies."

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