Construction, Economic Development, and Sustainability

Lowell Energy breaks ground on waste-to-energy facility

Anaerobic digester is part of energy center for the community.

March 7, 2014
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The ground in Lowell may be frozen, but it still broke two weeks ago for a new facility that will provide sustainability for the city.

A Lowell-based anaerobic digester — a waste-to-energy facility — one of only a handful in the state of Michigan, is in the works. The facility, owned by the newly formed, Grand Rapids-based energy company Lowell Energy AD LLC, will be about 25,000 square feet and built on an industrially zoned site at 625 Chatham St. 

The property was leased to the project by the city of Lowell, according to a release.

Construction is budgeted at about $5.4 million, and additional startup costs will put the overall project’s budget at about $6 million, said Pam Landes, LEAD co-owner. Williams and Works and the German-based enCO2 will serve as the project’s engineers, while Rockford Construction will handle the construction work, she said.

LEAD was formed in 2013 and is currently housed at 2465 Fletcher Drive NE in Grand Rapids, Landes said. Construction on the new development will begin in May and is expected to be completed in September. One full-time employee will be needed to run the facility once it’s operational, she said.

“This project will bring more than energy to our city,” said Lowell Mayor Jim Hodges. “There are many other benefits associated with the project, such as helping one of our largest employers and increasing our wastewater plant’s capacity.”

The anaerobic digester will be located adjacent to two new combustion turbines owned and operated by Lowell Light and Power, the city’s municipally owned electric utility, so the new site will provide easy access to the local power grid, said Greg Canfield, chair of the Lowell Light and Power Board.

“The combined facilities will anchor an energy center for the community,” Canfield said.

In 2008, Michigan enacted the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that if a city has a municipal electric system, 10 percent of the city’s utility energy needs to come from renewable sources by 2015, Landes said. The LEAD facility will provide this service for Lowell Light and Power, she said.

“The LEAD biodigester will process approximately 90 tons per day of livestock waste from Swisslane Farms, and food waste from fats, oils and greases, as well as from Litehouse Foods Inc.,” said LEAD co-owner Greg Northrup. “In addition, the facility will provide pretreatment for the liquid effluent from Litehouse Foods. Liquid residuals from the process will be further processed and released to the city’s wastewater plant; solid residual material after digestion, called digestate, will be land applied at Swisslane Farms as a soil amendment.”

Each year LEAD’s facility is expected to produce more than 3,000 tons of soil amendment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manure used in the facility by more than 2 million cubic yards, according to a release. The facility will be the first U.S. installation to use the patented Upflow/Downflow/Reflow anaerobic digestion technology.

Landes said this kind of technology is common in Germany and has been very successful. In the United States, however, there are only 269 commercial digesters and fewer than 10 in Michigan, she said.

“We’ve put together a project that takes into account the assets of this unique community and creates a multiple win situation,” Northrup said.

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