Energy company wants to make fuel from upvalley garbage
A Minnesota company wants to turn a profit by turning organic matter into biofuel at the Pitkin County landfill.Representatives of Novus Energy, an upstart company that produces ethanol and other biofuels from organic matter, made a presentation Tuesday at a Pitkin County commissioners work session.The 10-employee company has contracts for two similar projects and eight other projects across the country. And while the Pitkin County landfill does not produce a lot of gases, Novus representatives said they are keen to make Aspen a showcase for their new process.County commissioners were positive about the proposal but expressed concern about the size of the operation at an already crowded landfill.”This sounds like a very attractive idea,” Commissioner Michael Owsley said, but he directed landfill staff to do more preliminary work.The Novus process involves anaerobic bacteria that break down organic matter – just about anything short of hardwood – and makes biogas, or methane and carbon dioxide.A gas-to-liquid conversion process transforms the biogas to biofuel such as biodiesel or ethanol, and the only byproduct is clean water and organic fertilizer, Novus officials said.The process requires buried tanks measuring 100 to 200 feet in diameter, and “nothing would be unsightly” about the process, according to John Offerman, one of the company’s founders.Making ethanol from corn and cellulosic material such as switchgrass and cornstalks is nothing new, but company representatives said the gas-to-liquid process is unique.Willie Sabarese, an investor in the company and part owner of Takah Sushi in Aspen, said the process could recycle septic sludge, eliminating the costly process of trucking it downvalley.Novus officials proposed sharing revenues from fuel sales and tipping fees with the county.”Of course we want to make it pay for itself and make a profit,” Sabarese said. The new facility would extend the projected 20-year life of the landfill to as many as 75 years and would supply affordable fuels for Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses, Sabarese said.”Aspen would be in the forefront of the country,” Sabarese said.While Sabarese suggested the new, locally produced affordable fuel could bail out RFTA, Commissioner Dorothea Farris, a RFTA board member, corrected him, saying the bus company is not running out of money.It’s not the first time an energy company has knocked on the county landfill’s door looking to harness energy, according to Pitkin County solid waste manager Chris Hoofnagle.”These guys are on the cutting edge, for sure,” Hoofnagle said.But while he plans to explore such possibilities, Hoofnagle and his staff will complete a master plan for the facility before any decision.”We want to be very careful about how we use the space at our disposal,” Hoofnagle said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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