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Commissioners contemplate garbage options

Staff writer

“How much are you willing to pay for our trash?” Marion County Commission Chairman Dan Holub asked Thrusday.

The comment was only partially in jest because John Waltner and Roy Patton of Harvey County Waste Department brought a proposal to the commission to convert municipal solid waste into electricity.

Waltner and Patton have worked on the renewable energy project the last 12 years, with a goal of finding a way of converting the 90 tons of waste Harvey County generates daily into energy. It has had mixed results over that time.

“In the past we’ve talked to snake oil salesmen,” Waltner said.

They said they finally have a machine that can reliably convert trash into electricity with little pollution. The gasification machine was created by ICM, Inc. of Colwich.

“This is the closest we’ve been to something we feel can actually work,” Waltner said.

The machine works by placing trash in a long cylindrical tube and pulling it along a conveyer belt in a circular motion. The trash is broken into smaller pieces by a large auger. It is then heated using a small amount of propane or natural gas. The garbage is reduced to embers but the temperature is held at a moderate level that reduces polution.

“A lot of emissions are controlled by controlling temperatures,” Patton said. “It’s not going to be belching black smoke 20 hours a day.”

The heat created from a steady supply of waste is transferred to a boiler, which converts water into steam. The steam is then funneled into turbines where it creates electricity. Once the machine is running, a steady supply of trash will keep the operation running without any extra ignition substance.

With the trash currently generated in Harvey County each day, Patton said the gasification machine could create 3.5 megawatts of power, enough to power about 2,000 homes.

The reason both representatives of the Harvey County Waste Department were talking to commissioners was to ask for the county’s trash that is currently transported to Butler County Landfill.

“We know it’s costing you now,” Waltner said. “We can’t tell you Marion County will make a ton of money on MSW, but long term we don’t see landfill costs going down.”

There are still a number of hurdles to clear before the project can get up and running. Patton and Waltner need to develop a separator that would take out items that could not be burned down — batteries, glass, and metal — out of the stream of trash. They need to find a large source of available water to convert to steam. They also need to work on a power purchasing agreement with Westar for the electricity produced by gasification.

“All of these things need to happen and it won’t happen overnight,” Waltner said.

Even with the disclaimer, commissioners were buoyed by the proposition. At the very least, transporting trash to Newton would save some money from driving waste to El Dorado.

“We commend you in Harvey County for trying to do something like this,” Commissioner Randy Dallke said.

Last modified June 6, 2012

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