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Flies, stench and safety concerns surrounding a proposed study of anaerobic digestion on local horse manure were voiced by residents in an e-mail to county planner Gary Leikness, which was distributed during a Dec. 7 county council meeting.
The anaerobic digester requires about 30 days to start up and two to three months to perform a full digestion, said Olga Chertkov, who wrote the e-mail and spoke at the meeting. The time to perform the digestion combined with the months required to build up a biomass inventory will produce a significant amount of flies and a pungent odor at the North Mesa Stables and nearby residential area, she said.
The digester also could create safety issues because the process to digest manure produces methane, which becomes highly explosive when mixed with air, Chertkov said. Also, digester gas is heavier than air and displaces oxygen, which can potentially suffocate humans and animals.
“People may get hurt,” she said.
The proposed scale at which to build the
anaerobic digester is not economically sound, Chertkov said in her e-mail to council. It would take a farm operating 8,000-10,000 animals to turn a profit. The North Mesa Stables has about 200 horses, she said.
Chertkov recommends moving the study to the waste treatment plant or the landfill.
“They deal with waste and they know what to do if something happens,” she said, adding that about 100 people agreed and signed a petition opposing the proposed Capital Improvement Project (CIP).
“Their study is important; they are trying to get energy and fertilizer out of waste material,” petitioner Megan Lu said. “I think they should do it at a better location.”
Lu also expressed concerns about digester bi-products such as methane gas and ammonia. Even though said to be safe, Lu said it is still risky, especially when the proposed digester would be next to the soccer fields and tennis court.
Paul Kressin, a CIP co-applicant with Bob Falco, said the petitioners are misinformed.
He has attempted to contact them but none have spoken with him, he said.
“They do not know what we are doing and they don’t want to know and they are spreading misinformation,” Kressin said.
The study is “just a study” to see if a pilot project at the stables is feasible and to determine its cost, he said. The pilot program should be unnoticeable; it would not be as big as three horse stables and if the pilot project proved successful, it would be moved to another location such as the Eco Station, Kressin said.
The methane would be produced at normal levels and would not pose burn or explosive hazards, he said, and the manure odor and accompanying flies would be addressed.
The Parks Division currently collects local horse manure once a month. The manure ferments each month, creating the offensive odor and swarms of flies, he said. The odor continues up to the Eco Station, which receives the manure. Kressin said the odor can also be smelled at the bus transfer station next door to the Eco Station. The anaerobic digester could reduce that odor and the flies, he said.
The CIP proposal responds to several problems, Kressin said. The flies and stench are one problem, a $50,000 annual cost to transport the manure to the Eco Station is a second problem. The third problem is the odor produced when manure mixes with waste treatment plant sludge along with wood chips from green waste to create compost.
Kressin said the CIP proposal also addresses turning organic waste into energy through anaerobic digestion. It’s an idea that has caught on not just in New Mexico, Kressin said, where Albuquerque produces $2 million annually from gas made from solid waste, but also worldwide.
Los Alamos can do this on a small scale, Kressin said. When solid waste is put into a solid oxide fuel cell, energy can be produced. If Los Alamos used all of its solid waste, enough electricity would be produced to supply 2,000 homes. However, the local pilot project is a merely starting point won’t and produce that much electricity, he said.
The anaerobic digestion could also save residents money, Kressin said. The Parks Division currently spends about $100,000 maintaining the horse stables. Stable owners’ fees cover 40 percent of that cost but the county council recently increased the fees to cover 60 percent of maintenance costs. Covering the entire maintenance cost would drive some stable owners out of market, Kressin said.
“This is a concern,” he said.
Some cost effective options include compressing manure and selling it to people to burn in their fireplaces or hiring a company to haul the manure away. Kressin said an anaerobic digester can produce grade-A fertilizer that can be sold to a merchandiser.
“We think the revenue from this transaction should cover all of the costs of maintaining the stables,” Kressin said.
The biofertilizer is both liquid and solid, he said, and in the anaerobic digestion process, horse manure enters a sealed tank, is heated to 95 degrees at which point the anaerobic bacteria breaks down the manure. Biogas, which is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, is captured and used to heat the tank and can fuel a solid oxide fuel cell for electricity production.
The CIP Oversight and Evaluation Committee recently ranked the anaerobic digestion project 10 out of 16 projects. Council plans to discuss which proposals will receive funding during a special public meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers.