Ripe with potential – The Lethbridge Biogas story
A tanker truck rumbles along a southern Alberta road, its hold filled with rotten tomatoes, brown bananas, wilted flowers and other organic waste. Another truck strains under its load of manure – taken fresh from a dairy farmer’s barn that morning.
For many, the sight – not to mention smell – of so much refuse would be stomach turning. But for Thane Hurlburt, President of Lethbridge Biogas LP who spearheaded a project to turn waste products into energy, the would-be rubbish is ripe with potential.
Photo courtesy of: Lethbridge Biogas LP, taken August 2011.
Left: Stefan Michalski,
Right: Thane Hurlburt,
Lethbridge Biogas LP is one of a growing number of Alberta companies committed to developing greener and more sustainable forms of energy. Its processing facility, the largest biogas cogeneration project in Canada, on the outskirts of Lethbridge has the capacity to convert more than 100,000 tonnes of organic waste into 2.8 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2,800 homes – each year.
“Alberta is a respected world leader in fossil fuel production. With projects like Lethbridge Biogas, we can also be leaders in environmental stewardship,” said Hurlburt. “This is good for all energy projects and energy production in Alberta."
Photo courtesy of:
Lethbridge Biogas LP
The $30 million facility opened in December 2013 with funding from the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) and Alberta government.
At the heart of the Lethbridge operation are three state-of-the art anaerobic digesters, also known as fermentation tanks, that use bacteria to break down the waste that arrives by the truckload from local farmers and grocers. Inside the tanks, the biological cocktail of waste is constantly heated and stirred before it eventually produces biogas.
The biogas is collected in rubber bladders on top of the tanks and used as fuel to generate electricity.
The digested material, meanwhile, is collected from the tanks and loaded back onto trucks to be used as fertilizer by farmers. The nutritive quality of the manure remains while the ammonia smell is less pungent and closer to the odour of compost.
“Most of the farmers we work with are tickled to be involved,” said Hurlburt.
Anaerobic digestion not only keeps organic waste out of landfills, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Because of the way manure is stored – in tanks as opposed to fields – methane, a potent greenhouse gas given off by cattle, can’t escape into the atmosphere. In fact, it’s estimated the Lethbridge plant will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 224,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020.
Currently, Lethbridge Biogas LP uses manure, food waste, garden cuttings, cheese whey and other organic waste as feedstock for generating the biogas. However, the plant is already looking at ways to process other forms of waste, including animal carcasses through new technology developed by a company called BioRefinex.
Encouraged by its good start, Lethbridge Biogas LP is already looking at increasing its output of electricity to 4.2 megawatts as well as selling excess thermal energy to local industry. It is also exploring the possibility of developing fertilizer pellets for horticulture.
“The support for what we’re doing is incredible,” said Hurlburt. “Everyone goes that extra mile because they like it, they like where it’s going and what we’re trying to achieve.”
For more information, visit Lethbridge Biogas LP