North America’s largest anaerobic digester, which can take in 1,200 tons per day of waste matter, is in the midst of final construction and start-up activities at Western Plains Energy, an ethanol plant in Oakley, Kan. ICM Inc. performed construction services for the project designed by HiMark Biogas, Edmonton, Alberta. It is the highlight of an industrial-technology sector experiencing rapid growth.
Using microorganisms, anaerobic digesters capture methane gas from waste streams to power generators and produce heat or even compressed natural gas. The U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and numerous state and federal programs offer incentives for industrial facilities to install digesters to reduce emissions and waste. To keep its incentives, the project must be generating electricity by Dec. 31.
“We were under a lot of pressure to get this job done in a very tight window so it would be eligible for some DOE programs,” says Shane Chrapko, director, HiMark Biogas. “When you tell contractors they have to get something done in two months they’re used to doing in six, it can cause problems.”
Miron Construction, Neenah, Wis., has completed construction of two digesters and has two more under construction. Miron is optimistic about growth prospects for digesters, but it has experienced similar timeline pressures. Jason Rieth, manager for Miron, says the firm has started building a $25-million anaerobic digester for Green Whey Energy, a Wisconsin food producer.
HiMark Biogas’ Chrapko says that even if a contractor has “built 10,000 strip malls using [concrete and steel], this is something different.”
Miron’s Rieth agrees. “These digesters aren’t that complicated from a technical standpoint. It’s a lot of masonry work, and there isn’t a lot of welded pipe—it’s PVC and schedule-10 piping,” he says. “But it is a biological, as opposed to mechanical, system. Be aware of that and have a solid relationship with the technology people if you want to be successful.”
This article has been updated to reflect a correction. Miron Construction is based in Neenah, Wis., not Oshkosh, Wis.