From The Evening Leader:

The president of Quasar Energy Group gave a lengthy presentation Saturday morning regarding what he believes to be an opportunity to help clean up the watershed as well as provide a revenue stream for area farmers.

Mel Kurtz, president of Quasar Energy Group, talked about anaerobic digesters and the devices’ possible impact in the area during Saturday’s Lake Improvement Association meeting. Kurtz noted the devices can help solve manure storage issues and create a revenue stream for farmers by producing renewable energy.

“It’s the only way that I know of that is self-funding,” Kurtz said of possible fixes to help heal the lake and watershed. “An anaerobic digester will pay them to process and reduce the nutrients and concentrate the nutrients so they can be dealt with appropriately.”

The digesters take manure and other biomass food waste converts it into energy as well as a byproduct. That byproduct can be sold to other farmers who need the nutrients for their soil.

Farmers, Kurtz said, are an ideal buyer for digesters — especially those with cattle. With a seemingly endless source of manure, Kurtz said the digesters would provide a valuable tool for the farms.

“The digester on a farm, in our world, would process the manure as a base load, then bring in food waste from your restaurants and schools,” Kurtz said. “A Walmart store generates about two-and-a-half tons of organic waste in a day. Walmart is our largest provide of biomass.”

Kurtz estimated there are approximately 300 farms in the watershed. Given that estimate, Kurtz said he believes the region could boast dozens of the devices.

“It’s taking a long time to get people to agree that this is a good idea in this region and I’m not sure why,” Kurtz said. “There’s something that’s polarizing the populous here about if it’s good. We have upwards of 46 plants on the books right now to build in the U.S., including two in Hawaii. It’s the next right thing to do — to convert waste into energy.”

Kurtz challenged residents to step up and start the process.

“You need one,” Kurtz said. “Someone needs the courage to step up and do one. If you build it they will come. That’s what happened in Wooster.”

Quasar has a partner firm in Germany. Kurtz said digesters in Germany are prevalent and viewed as beneficial to all parties.

“There’s 4,000 in Germany alone — they make 19 percent of their energy from renewable sources,” Kurtz said. “There’s about 250 digesters in the entire United States. There’s a market potential for 325,000. If we took all the organic waste in Ohio, we could produce 25 percent of the total motor vehicle fuel consumed in Ohio in the form of compressed natural gas.”

Kurtz also questioned the reported $8 million it would cost the state to dose the entire lake with alum. Kurtz said the digesters also provide an alternative to manure hauling — which can get costly.

“I guess — I don’t get it,” Kurtz said. “It can’t solve the problem but it’s $8 million. If that funding was available to digesters with the existing federal funding — that’s eight digesters. That would process around 30,000 tons each of manure and other volatile organic compounds.”

The payback on a digester, with existing grant programs and federal funding, is three to six years. Without the funding, Kurtz said the payback is six to 10 years.

Before building a digester, officials conduct a comprehensive feasibility study. The study, Kurtz said, determines if the digester will be successful.

“It’s really comprehensive before we even engage the thing,” Kurtz said. “We normally charge $100,000.”

It typically takes approximately 90 days to build a digester once all permits are issued. Kurtz said he believes it’s feasible to have an operating facility that could prove the technology works this year.

“Look ahead,” Kurtz said.

Farmers, Kurtz said, could partner with local companies to help them fill their digesters with the food waste necessary to power the device. Dannon, he said, would be an asset for those who build a digester.

“They have lots, they have multiple semis a day,” Kurtz said. “That would be perfect. They’d be interested in coming to the digester that is built here. I promise you they would.”