Iowa Senate supports methane-powered energy projects - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa Senate supports methane-powered energy projects

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) - It's another sign that green energy production has plenty of support here in Iowa.

On Monday, the Iowa Senate approved legislation encouraging the development of methane gas power plants. That's a good thing for Johnson and Washington counties, which have both showed interest in building them. One such plant is about to become fully operational in the Amana Colonies.

At first whiff, the stench is nearly unbearable, but the energy benefits of this methane-powered machine are nothing to turn your nose up at. John McGrath, manager of Amana Farms, explained it to us.

"At peak operation, we should be able to generate approximately 15 to 20 percent of the total electrical needs of the Amana Colonies." The $5 million plant gets its power from a sludge, or "slurry" as McGrath calls it, which is a mix of animal and industrial waste. There's about 1.6 million gallons of it in an underground digestion tank, which is connected to generators in a nearby building.

What makes this smelly process work is an organism known as anaerobic bacteria. It interacts with the slurry and breaks it down, thereby creating methane gas, which is what powers the generators inside. The motors then use the methane as fuel, creating electricity.

McGrath says benefits of the process include an overall decrease in the distinct methane odor, and a reduction in the release of ozone-eating gases. "Methane is something in the order of 21 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than Co2 is, so we're taking methane and turning it into Co2."

A similar setup is being considered for Iowa City's landfill, where landfill superintendent Dave Elias says rotting waste would produce plenty of green energy.

"About 2 megawatts of electricity, if we would put that into generators," he told us, "or it could go to heat over two-thousand homes for a year."

He hopes to have a better idea within a few months, of what the system would look like, with construction starting as early as late summer or early fall. He says local power companies and the University of Iowa have expressed interest in the proposed project.

Online Reporter - Brady Smith

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