Making new business out of municipal waste 

Compost facility turns sewage and food waste into soil and fuel

It may look like raw sewage and food waste as it makes its way in trucks into the Callaghan Valley, but on the way out it will be something else altogether.

Whistler’s new composting facility will not only be able to transform organic waste into soil for gardening but into a new product altogether — biofuel.

“We’re not pioneers here… but we’re definitely leading edge with the flexibility and the options that we’ve created into this,” said Councillor Eckhard Zeilder of the $12 million facility which is under construction and expected to be operational by spring.

When the municipality purchased the facility from Carney’s this summer, the tunnels were not equipped to make the bio-fuel.

Council wanted to ensure the facility had a so-called “flexible platform,” making the composter as useful as possible into the future.

“We know that the markets for bio-fuels are growing rapidly,” said Zeidler.

The municipality is in discussions with Lafarge cement/concrete plant in Delta as a potential buyer of its bio-fuel. The arrangement will be done on a test-case scenario.

“What we would like to explore is whether we can get a long-term destination for that so we don’t always have to be running around looking for new markets for the bio-fuel,” he explained.

“Initially we are not going to get paid for that product but we also will not have to pay to move it out of there.”

Located at the new waste transfer station, the compost facility is just a skeleton outline of what it will become. Crews are at work prepping the site for the main building, which is set to be delivered in mid-January.

Ron Sander, manager of operations, outlined exactly how the plant will operate from the delivery of the waste to the wood chipper to the composting tunnel, which will eventually churn out the end products.

It’s a crisp winter day on site, one of the reasons Sander explained why it was a smart move to include the technology, the bio-dryers, which could make bio-fuel.

“Here we’re really subject to the weather,” said Sander.

“(The bio-fuel) is a big option for us.”

He explained that the wet climate in the winter is challenging to make the soil compost. In addition, nobody is buying the product throughout the winter, which would force the municipality to find a place to stockpile it.

“That was a decision that was made fairly early on, that we needed maximum flexibility because the inputs primarily of restaurant waste, organics and most importantly the sludge (from the sewage plant), just keep on coming, and that’s not something we can stockpile,” said Zeidler.

And so, the bio-fuel will be a winter product on site, the compost a summer product.

The municipal parks department has said it will use the soil if it’s up to their standards, said Sander. It may also be sold to other markets, like Carney’s soil compost.

When asked if he thought the $12 million operation was a risky investment, Zeidler was adamant it wasn’t.

“The reason that I don’t think it’s risky is that sometimes you’ve got to lead and if we had just picked it up from Squamish, dropped it on the ground here, plugged it in and started working, that I would have considered very risky,” he said. “But what did happen is that staff worked so hard in identifying some of the challenges and the opportunities that we’ve made a lot of decisions, as you can see from the increase in scope on the budget, to take the risk out of it.

“Our challenge has been to make it as efficient as possible so we’ve been reducing risk, rather than increasing it.”

Carney’s opened its composting facility in 2004. It was plagued by problems from the outset, chief among them, the smell from the facility which was located in the Squamish Business Park.

It was forced to close in 2006.

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