Government policies requiring more waste to be diverted from landfill sites are helping fuel plans to double the size of a biogas plant in Elmira.
While the plant currently focuses on turning organic waste materials into methane for generating electricity, the larger demand going forward will be for renewable natural gas (RNG), said company director Chuck Martin in a “heads-up” presentation to Woolwich council Monday night, adding a formal application is likely to be filed in the next two or three months.
The Woolwich Bio-En facility was sold last year to SBE Limited Partnership, with the former continuing to operate the plant.
Martin noted the facility has been running since 2014, “largely without the feared impacts” expressed by the community prior to its launch. He expects some concerns to emerge when the expansion bid is filed, particularly where truck traffic is concerned.
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“If we double the size of the facility, there would be twice as many trucks coming in,” he said, noting there would be no need to adjust the current agreement, which allows for up to 80 trucks per day.
“We’re not asking for any change in the trucking.”
Currently, the plant averages 11 or 12 trucks per day – half arriving with organic materials, half leaving with the leftover material – digestate – that finds its way to farmers’ fields as fertilizer.
Even at double that number, the impact on local truck traffic would be minimal, said Martin, pointing to some 450 heavy trucks a day passing through the downtown intersection of Arthur and Church streets.
“I think the concern is going to be trucking,” agreed Mayor Sandy Shantz.
The mayor noted concerns about truck traffic underscore the need for an Elmira bypass route, currently under study by the Region of Waterloo but with a timeline beyond 2041, “which is way too far in the future, to my mind.”
The possibility of increased odour controls was addressed by Coun. Patrick Merlihan, with Martin noting that odour and noise studies will be carried out as part of the clearances needed from the Ministry of the Environment.
“I don’t believe there are any concerns on that front,” said Martin.
Technology has advanced since the biogas plant opened, allowing for improvements to the process, better screening of the raw materials for contaminants and better odour control, he said.
The facility will have to filter the methane produced to reduce sulphur and carbon dioxide before channelling it into the natural gas pipeline.
In response to a question from Coun. Larry Shantz, Martin explained that the current formula for judging the carbon impact finds RNG production to be seven times more efficient than using the biogas to generate electricity.
“There’s quite a need for biogas capacity in the province,” he said, noting the demand is growing.
Likewise, conversion to renewable natural gas ranks higher than simply composting the organic materials given the use of the carbon energy from the materials, leaving behind nitrogen and phosphorous for fertilizer.
“We harvest the energy. Composting does not.”
SBE will have to work with Enbridge to install a much larger gas line to carry the facility’s RNG into the natural gas pipeline.
The plant has some 12 years still remaining on its provincial contract to provide electricity, though what happens after that remains to be determined.