Food Service & Agriculture, Government, and Sustainability

City partners with Founders Brewing on biodigester

Three tanks, which will cost between $30 million and $40 million total, are expected to be operational by the end of 2018.

April 21, 2017
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The city of Grand Rapids and Founders Brewing Co. announced a new public-private partnership that will result in three new biodigesters that will generate energy for the city.

Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said as Founders and other food processing and agribusinesses continue to grow, it is creating a strain on the city’s wastewater treatment facility.

To meet projected future needs, DeLong said the city could expand the wastewater treatment plant, which would cost $90 million to $120 million, or it could build the three biodigesters at a total cost of $30 million to $40 million.

Mike Lunn, environmental services department manager for the city, said at 25 percent of the cost of expanding the wastewater treatment plant, the biodigesters made the “most sense.”

As its part of the project, Founders is building a pump station on-site, which will connect to the pipeline the city plans to build along Market Street.

Founders leads the city in the amount of wastewater treated at the wastewater plant with 15,000 pounds, and its growth is a primary catalyst for the project.

The waste generated from Founders and other food and industrial facilities will be transferred through the pipeline and stored in the tanks, where it will be digested throughout the day, creating energy from the generated gas.

Each of the three tanks will have a capacity of 1.4 million gallons.

The city plans to put out a request for proposals for the project within the next month and expects the tanks to be operational by the end of next year.

The city also plans to install a phosphorous recovery system to extract phosphorous out of the sludge, which it will sell for approximately $400 per ton.

Lunn said the city’s investment should keep customers’ rates stable for the next five years.

He also said the wastewater plant will be able to operate for several more years before expansion is necessary.

“Instead of starting in 2025, it will be more like 2030 or 2040,” Lunn said.

The biodigesters will be located on the wastewater treatment site, with additional space available for another three biodigesters, as need increases.

“We could add another biodigester in the next five to six years,” Lunn said.

Lunn said the plan is to add additional companies — such as Amway, Coca-Cola and SET Environmental — that will build and maintain their own pump stations in return for an altered surcharge fee.

Rick Chapla, vice president of strategic initiatives at The Right Place, said agribusinesses make up the second-largest segment of employment in the region, and with growth at a rate of at least 16 percent on an annual basis, this project is particularly important.

“That growth is not sustainable if we don’t have the capacity to be more creative with reduction and use of waste, such as what Founders generates, and turning it into a feedstock for energy production,” he said.

Chapla also noted Gov. Rick Snyder set “lofty goals” for the state’s agriculture and food-processing businesses, which will require increased wastewater treatment capacity to be able to meet.

“We are bumping up against limits, and we are reaching a saturation point,” Chapla said. “The traditional ways of wastewater treatment is very expensive. This is a great alternative.”

Once the biodigesters are up and running, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said the city will be one step closer to meeting its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2025.

She said the city currently is at 30 percent renewable energy.

“Environmental sustainability is one of our core priorities,” Bliss said.

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