How burning trash leads to energy : a look inside the Olmsted Wa - KXLT - Fox 47 Rochester MN News, Weather, Sports #rochmn

How burning trash leads to energy : a look inside the Olmsted Waste to Energy Facility

Olmsted Waste to Energy Facility Olmsted Waste to Energy Facility
 ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47)  - In Olmsted County, the journey your trash takes after you throw it out is actually fairly unique.
According to the EPA, the Olmsted Waste to Energy Facility is one of only 86 facilities in the United States utilizing burning trash as an energy source.

John Helmers explained the process to me.

"The waste comes in, drops into the storage area, it's brought up by a grapple crane, dropped in to a gravity fed shoot that goes into the grate system, the hot gasses rise up in here, boiler tubes are all up around here, we collect up the steam here, it goes out through the turbine, and either gets condensed back to water, and we recycle it back to the boiler or it goes out the buildings and it's used for both heating and cooling out there," said Helmers.

He said the energy is then converted to heating, cooling, and electricity for over thirty buildings in the Rochester area including the civic center and the public library.

The main criticism of waste to energy plants nationwide is that people worry about harmful emissions being released into the air.
Helmers said that he doesn't consider harmful emissions to be a problem at the Olmsted facility.

"All of our emissions are compared to what the permit allows. So the blue bars are what the permit allows and the green and the red are what we're emitting for units one and two...," Helmers said, as he referenced dramatic differences between the colors on a chart. "We operate as low on that curve as possible trying to keep the minimum amount of emissions coming from the facility."

Air samples from around the facility and the smoke stack are constantly monitored and recorded. Helmers said the emission levels constantly check out as being safe. The emission levels are so much lower than the EPA guidelines that the facility has been able to expand in recent years and add a third trash burning unit.
The increased overall capacity has allowed the the process to convert more trash than what has been coming into the facility from residents.

"In the meantime, we've taken a portion of the landfill while we were constructing Unit 3. We've put all the household type waste in one area and the industrial type waste and asbestos and everything in another and so we're actually digging up that household waste, shredding it, bringing back part of it for fuel in the empty ash truck so we're reclaiming landfill space," said Helmers.

Other than emissions, the byproduct of this waste disposal process is ash. Ash gets transferred to the landfill and is monitored for run off to make sure that there is very little leakage into the surrounding environment. Garbage turned to ash takes up ninety-percent less space than traditional solid waste in a landfill.

In the near future, the ash may not end up in landfills at all. The Olmsted Waste to Energy Facility is looking into other uses for the ash including adding ash to the asphalt used for public roads.

Helmers said the waste to energy process may ultimately reduce the amount of garbage that ends up back in the environment.

"We're pretty proud of the system, it works pretty well."

Helmers said that it's also important to note that people should never burn trash themselves because it's dangerous, and without the proper equipment it does create dangerous emissions that are released into the air.

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