The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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June 5, 2014

The smell of money

Expanded sewer plant beginning to pay off

HERMITAGE — Hermitage’s new anaerobic digestion system at the water pollution control plant has started generating electricity – and money.

The system was installed as part of a $32 million plant expansion. It is designed to “cook” sludge that is mixed with food waste to create a biogas that can be burned to generate electricity to sell to the power grid.

While workers have been filling the two working digesters with sludge, the digesters are not yet producing a significant amount of biogas. Instead, the plant is burning natural gas. Just burning natural gas, the plant could save about $200,000 a year in electricity cost, said plant startup consultant Jason Wert.

Of course, officials want to do better.

“It will only go up with biogas,” Wert told Hermitage Municipal Authority Wednesday, speaking of the electricity savings.

Wert said no one really knows how much less the plant will save on electricity once the system is at full capacity, but the preconstruction estimate was $120,000 a year.

In terms of when the digesters will generate enough biogas to impact the electricity generation, allowing the scaling back of the natural gas usage, Wert said, “We’re getting there. Perhaps next month.”

Several other startup components of the plant also are in the “we’re getting there” mode.

While the plant has started accepting food waste, it cannot enter the food directly into the digesters until the authority receives a state Department of Environmental Protection permit. When that occurs – maybe 30 to 45 days from now – the biogas generation will increase, he said.

A third digester is not working because a probe was installed incorrectly, he said. That will be corrected shortly.

A heat exchanger that will capture heat created by the cooking sludge for use elsewhere at the plant is not working because of a missing part that is scheduled to arrive in July, Wert said.

The digesters are not yet hot enough to cook the sludge and kill pathogens, which would create a so-called class A “biosolid” – treated sludge – that can be used for fertilizer and fill. That ability also is around the corner.

“By summer, we may have a biosolid that is able to go into the public and we could be done with the landfill,” Wert said.

Officials plan to sell the biosolid instead of trucking the treated sludge to a landfill, as they do now.

With all that is not yet working, Wert said he is happy with how the components that are working have operated.

“Pretty much all that we can operate is operating at this point,” Wert said.

He noted that he wanted to get online anything he could as soon as possible to make sure the equipment is working properly, while still under warranty.

Wert added that he will start looking into electricity and carbon offset credits, all of which the authority will be able to create and sell because of the new plant capabilities.

Noting the financial and environmental benefits of the plant expansion, authority member Greg Ceremuga said, “It’s awesome stuff, seeing the whole process coming to fruition.”

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