Waste recycling solution creates energy, jobs

WSU alumni Larry Condon, former general manager and co-founder of Barr-Tech.  Photo courtesy of the WSU College of Engineering and Architecture.
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  • Sirti – Barr-Tech receives $2 million and the Sirti: Foundation receives $250,000 in stimulus funding from the State Energy Program 

SPOKANE, Wash. – Take the city of Spokane’s garbage. Mix with a little expertise from WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering. Add some engineering support from Ch2MHill.

The result: 40,000 tons of recycled wasteand 15 new jobs.
Larry Condon (’90, poli.sci), formerly the general manager and co-founder of Barr-Tech, had a business background and had become increasingly interested in green business ventures when he was approached about developing a compost facility.
Reaching out to WSU
As the project was getting underway in 2008, Condon reached out to WSU researchers, Professor Shulin Chen and Craig Frear in the department of biological systems engineering. The researchers have worked for several years to develop an economically viable anaerobic digester that converts waste to methane gas, which can then be burned to generate electricity.
“We wanted to develop more than just a compost facility,” said Condon. “We went back to our core team with the idea of developing an integrated organic processing facility.”
Feasibility report leads to funding
The WSU researchers conducted an engineering feasibility report for the fledgling company, which helped them acquire grant support, says Frear, assistant research professor in WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. Frear also helped with trouble-shooting and served as a technical expert.
With support from the WSU researchers, the company has completed Phase I construction of a first-class compost yard and is now embarking on Phase II todevelop a comprehensive facility that can compost all of the city’s residential yard and food waste while also generating electricity that can be sold back to electric utilities.
Part of the facility will recycle yard waste, food waste and wood waste to make high quality compost. At the same time, the company will use anaerobic digestion to convert food and greenwaste to generate approximately two megawatts of electricity – enough to power 1,500 homes.
Will it work?
“We wondered, ‘would it work biologically?’ said Condon. “The WSU team helped us to validate the concept. Not only will it work, but it works extremely well. It’s unlike any existing project in the Northwest.”
The facility is unique in being able to process woody material as well as food waste for production of both soil amendments and renewable energy, agrees Frear.
“Barr-Tech is a Northwest leader in this,’’ he said. “They are an organics recycling facility that is using multiple technologies to optimally stabilize waste while getting added value.”
For his part, Frear says he enjoyed working on a project that will see real future benefits for industry and citizens in Washington. The project fits in well with WSU’s land-grant mission, he says.
Contract signed
The company recently signed a contract with the City of Spokane and will compost all of the city’s residential yard waste, food waste and commercial food waste.  Any organic waste will be put to use at the facility, from grass clippings to cardboard and paper, to any kinds of food waste, including meat and dairy products.
With the comprehensive composting that can kill harmful pathogens, the amount of waste that can be composted from the city and county can potentially be doubled or tripled, said Condon. The facility is located on 40 acres that is about 22 miles from Spokane.
The company eventually hopes to expand its business model to other cities in the region.
“Green is here to stay,” said Condon. “This trend is not going away. It’s the right thing to do , and it saves money.”
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Editor’s note: Condon, the fall of 2011, became a partner with SRM Development, pursuing the expansion of renewable energy solutions in other regions.
Contact: Tina Hilding, College of Engineereing and Architecture, 509-335-5095, thilding@wsu.edu.