MONTPELIER, Vt. -- The Vermont Electric Cooperative is eyeing a new power source: a series of small, one-megawatt generators that rely on 'gasified' trash, sewage, wood chips, and other fuels .
David Hallquist, CEO of the Johnson-based co-op, said it was working with a Quebec company that supplies large-scale gasification systems to scale down their product to the one-megawatt size.
The co-op has partnered with Enerkem Technologies of Montreal and Sherbrooke, and Sealander Waterworks of Washington, D.C., and Stansted, Quebec, to develop three of the generators at a renewable energy research center on the border between Derby Line, Vt., and Stansted.
"I want to emphasize this is research and development" for the co-op, Hallquist said. "We're hopeful, but anything can happen. This is a technology that needs to be pursued. That's why we're pursuing it."
He said it was not research and development for Enerkem; they've been running a smaller, 600-kilowatt generator in Sherbrooke for years.
Hallquist said a key benefit of the small-scale generators is that they could be placed on different parts of the electric cooperative system to respond to growth in demand.
Officials at Enerkem and Sealander did not immediately return calls seeking comment late Friday afternoon.
Hallquist said a wide range of fuels can be formed into pellets and fed into a chamber heated to 1,440 degrees . A short, intense burst of propane or other fuel would be used to generate that heat; then the coals at the bottom of the gasification chamber would be sufficient, he said.
Instead of burning, the high level of heat turns the fuel to gas, he said. Harmful heavy metals are separated out, encased in carbon, and later mixed with concrete or paving. The gas in the chamber is removed to another chamber, where it is burned to run a generator; it also can be used for heat and industrial processes.
Hallquist said the process would emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. But he said the project would be "carbon-neutral" in that as the trash decomposed, the waste materials being gasified would emit the same amount of carbon. The benefit is that the fuel would not be mined from deep underground and burned, adding carbon to the atmosphere that had been stored for millions of years.
Hallquist said the project partners expect to spend about $20 million in startup costs, and are hoping to get grant money from the US and Canadian governments.
Enerkem Technologies hopes to get the cost of a one-megawatt unit down to about $1 million, compared to construction costs of traditional generators that average $2.5 million per megawatt of capacity, Hallquist said.
Stephen Wark, spokesman for the state Department of Public Service, said Friday that officials there had been briefed about the project and were intrigued.
"This is considered kind of an emerging or innovative technology," Wark said. Using the energy both for power generation and heat or industrial processes would enhance its viability, he added.
Wark cautioned that while the department supports the research, it is reserving "the right to examine it to make sure it fits within" the state's regulatory criteria.