| Facility rendering of an Impact Bioenergy anaerobic digestion system.
JAN ALLEN, Impact Bioenergy
Jan Allen has been involved in design, construction, and operation of organics facilities since 1989, at Cedar Grove Composting, CH2M HILL, Concept Kinetics, and Harvest Power.
Jan is president of IMPACT BIOENERGY. Formed this year, they intend to empower communities with the best bio-conversion technologies and services available to recycle organic materials into renewable energy and soil products.
He sat down with Octaform this week to talk anaerobic digestion and some of the hurdles it faces in North America.
How did you get into biogas?
My first experience was at Purdue University – we were allowed to do an undergraduate thesis – I chose methane potential via pig waste biogas. My second experience was designing mechanical piping for wastewater digesters. The concept has always been at the forefront of my engineering ideas but it has not always been economically feasible.
The economics have shifted into a much more favorable position. This is partly due to rising costs for alternatives like long distance disposal or recycling at distant composting facilities. It is also partly due to more domestic technology choices that don’t have to be imported from Europe.
A growing number of organizations and cities are aiming for zero waste as a goal. How does anaerobic digestion help accomplish this?
Anaerobic digestion is ideally suited to wet, high-calorie food wastes. These are precisely the same feedstocks that cause operational challenges for composting operations – too much water, not enough pore space, and too much oxygen demand at the beginning of the process. So for multifamily organics and commercial organics especially anaerobic digestion can extract energy and reduce the odour potential of the remaining digestate that goes to composting. College campuses are a great case study in both zero waste and self-generation of energy.
Many campuses and communities have taken the bolder step to both move past 50% diversion and to develop micro-grid power stations on-campus. Even if recycling goals are achieved they don’t account for the environmental impact of exporting waste. Today there are opportunities to avoid the fuel use for hauling and offsite disposal of these materials by creating energy locally from waste streams that would otherwise be wasted.
Converting organic materials into energy and soil on-campus is not only possible, it is more cost-effective and sustainable. With much of the district power and heating infrastructure built into their initial construction, college campuses across North America are moving to micro grid power systems.
For example UC San Diego's 42-megawatt micro grid has a master controller and optimization system and uses different generator sources - photovoltaic solar panels, fuel cells, and natural gas generators - that enable it to cover more than 90 percent of the power requirement at the 1,200-acre campus. The micro grid saves the university some $800,000 a month in energy costs.
Compared to Europe, North America has been slow to adopt biogas as a means of energy generation. What factors are holding back growth in North America?
In North America we generally operate on a market-driven system where lowest cost is overwhelmingly the decision criteria. In Europe the decision criteria was more about EU directives to reduce landfilling and produce renewable energy. These were policies adopted by counties and the European Union.
Renewable energy is tariff-driven in Europe where biomethane power is worth three times as much per kWh ($0.20/kWh in EU vs. $0.07/kWh in US). There are a number of variations on this concept including low-technology need for cooking and lighting fuel - used mainly Asia, India, and Africa; and environmental-control used mainly in North America for wastewater facilities.
The good news is that the supply chain and design/build industry for biogas is starting to grow in North America. That will drive down capital cost. We are still struggling with weak central policy and low energy tariffs but those may be the next barriers to address.
What areas of North America do you foresee growing in AD?
Those areas where there are high waste disposal costs or high electricity prices.
Over the last decade, Cow Power programs in Vermont and BC have attempted to help biogas become economically feasible. Do you believe that AD in North America can be feasible without subsidies or programs?
Yes if the current economics show high waste disposal costs or high electricity prices. It is really site-specific so each project has a unique economic situation. We created two self-evaluation models to help customers evaluate their specific economics (see here). In these tools there is a ‘project specifics’ tab to help collect the data to make a wise decision.
What services does Impact Bioenergy provide? How is Impact Bioenergy different from other firms involved in biogas?
IMPACT BIOENERGY was launched in Seattle in July 2013. We have created a unique business model focused on selling small-scale organic waste energy waste solutions to communities of 5,000 to 50,000 people for the production of renewable energy and valuable, carbon-rich by-products. Our products are pre-fabricated, modular, quickly deployed, and here in Pacific Northwest.
The centerpiece of our game-changing business model is the IMPACT BIOENERGY TECHNOLOGY SUITE: three separate but complementary organics recycling technology modules designed to operate independently or together.
IMPACT BIOENERGY TECHNOLOGY SUITE
• Biomethane production via anaerobic digestion (AD)
• Soil and heat production via composting
• Charcoal, biochar, syngas, and heat production via gasification
The trends and convergence of the global issues we can address underscores the relevancy and timeliness of this offering. Every day, each resident in campus and urban area sends two pounds of valuable organic material to disposal.
IMPACT BIOENERGY is different than other technology providers because it focuses on small scale, standardized, simple, pre-fabricated assemblies to drive down the capital cost of renewable energy systems. Delivery and installation can be accomplished in about 6 months vs. typical concept-to-startup development cycles that require 2-4 years in the industry today. Operating costs are low with near zero inputs of chemicals and consumable materials.
The ultimate success of Impact Bioenergy’s plan lies in our ability to deliver systems that will create “communities” from our customers who enjoy information sharing in the areas of purchasing, operations, and marketing.
IMPACT BIOENERGY have professionals located on the West Coast and East Coast, and in the United States and Canada. The corporate home town is Seattle, Washington