LAKE PLACID - The North Elba Town Council discussed the details of a biodigester project March 11, deciding to finalize a contract with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and discussed selecting a company to build it.
The anaerobic digester, once built, will covert organic waste like food scraps into renewable biogas for electricity, liquid fertilizer and compost - and possibly heat a greenhouse.
Lake Placid High School science teacher Tammy Morgan has been working on the project since 2011. It would be the first of its kind in the United States, according to her. Anaerobic digesters are more commonly used in the agriculture industry, not for a community's food waste.
Morgan worked with the Adirondack North Country Association to get the project paid for through a grant from NYSERDA.
"It's important to remember that ... when we got this award, there are nine (ANCA) projects that are also part of this award," Morgan said. "The sooner we hammer out what NYSERDA needs to get the contract and we have a signed contract ... it's kind of dependent on all nine of us."
Morgan said she would want to see the town go with a smaller digester at first and then, sometime later when the project grows, add a second digester.
"People will want to do it because it makes so much sense and saves so much money," Morgan said. "Rather than building it really huge in the beginning, I think it would be better to have two."
Morgan estimates that once the digester is completed, it will divert 900 tons of food waste yearly from landfills and produce enough electricity to power around 27 homes. This will save the town money in fees from sending garbage to landfills and also extend the life of landfills. The digester would be located at the North Elba Transfer Station in Lake Placid.
"It's huge," town Councilman Jack Favro said. "This is going to be great for the community."
Morgan said the project will have all the necessary materials to grow food in a greenhouse.
"The ultimate goal here is we are already starting to put grants together to produce a greenhouse right there on that site," Morgan said. "The advantage of a greenhouse is that you would have the potential to make this a money maker.
"We have energy to produce electricity," she added. "Heat from the burning process could easily heat the greenhouse.
"It could be hydroponic growing or raised beds, it could be either/or, whatever model is the best for us."
Choosing a company
Several companies submitted bids to build the biodigester.
"From the list of vendors, only Highmark (Renewables) and BIOFerm firm put together proposals tailored to those specifications," Morgan said. "We want to process just primarily food waste, and our target volume is 900 tons."
Morgan said Highmark Renewable is experienced with agricultural and food waste.
"One thing about Highmark is they have a really strong agricultural background," she said.
Nevertheless, Morgan thought BIOFerm, a company that has locations in Vermont and Wisconsin, is the better choice.
"I think what puts BIOFerm ahead in this race is they have experience in the state," Morgan said. "They quoted New York state regulations on every piece and part of the project.
"I personally feel that BIOFerm has the stronger program, so if I had to make a recommendation right now, I would chose them."
Morgan said it's important to get back to one of the companies soon to get the biodigester built in the three-year time frame.
"If they know we have the intentions of going with them, then they could start working on their next steps," Morgan said.
The town board will make a decision once it asks Supervisor Roby Politi and Councilman Jay Rand, who were both absent from the March 11 meeting.