Getting a charge out of waste

Minnesota State Roundup

Published May 1, 2001  | May 2001 issue

Two projects under way may not allay fears of a potential electricity shortage, but they may be micro-solutions.

Nashwauk in northern Minnesota may build the nation's first biomass-fed electrical generation and fuel-producing plant to supply the city's 500 residential electricity customers. A study is under way to determine the feasibility of the $100 million plant.

Proponents say the plant could supply 12 megawatts of electrical power, 1 million gallons of diesel fuel per year and other fuels such as ethanol and propanol from local wood firms' waste (bark, chips and sawdust) along with peat and reed canary grass grown by the region's farmers. About 4 megawatts could power the city and the rest could be sold. In addition, the company that would operate the plant suggests that it would create about 80 jobs, with an annual payroll of about $21.7 million.

On an even more micro-basis, a central Minnesota dairy is running its operation on cow power—the only farm with a fully operational anaerobic digester in the state. By converting manure to electricity, the farmer produced enough methane from 850 cows to run his dairy operation, with enough left over to supply electricity to 78 homes; the digester also cuts manure odor.

Kathy Cobb