Ohio's renewable energy industry is influencing your energy consumption whether you know it or not. And like any other technology pioneer, its green path has been chock full of challenges as well as successes.
A massive new wind farm near Ohio's western border came online in 2012, while fascinating new biogas facilities continue to shoot up across the state. Even familiar staples like Campbell's soup are getting in on the action as they simmer away courtesy of solar panels in Napoleon, Ohio.
Mel Kurtz, President of quasar energy group in Independence, cites three components to a successful renewable energy project: a product that is less expensive for the consumer than the existing alternative, one that is sustainable and environmentally friendly and lastly, one that captures what he calls the "greed factor" -- it must be part of a viable business model.
His Independence, Ohio based company is well on its way to meeting all those criteria and then some. quasar builds systems into which "residual organics" are fed, then anaerobically digested and transformed into biogas, from which all the carbon dioxide is extracted. The result is a high-grade methane, or natural gas, which can be used for electricity, heating, boiler fuel and fuel for vehicles.
So far, quasar has eight such processors across the state, as well as facilities in Massachusetts and New York. The "residual organics" include table food waste, industrial food waste, crop residuals, manure, fats and oils. The process emulates the way the earth creates traditional natural gas, but at an incredibly accelerated rate. Highly desirable fertilizer is another product of the anaerobic digestion process.
"The nutrient value is high and it's clean. It's not a chemical fertilizer," says Kurtz. "Farmers ask for it. They want it. In some cases, they get mad when they don't get it."
quasar, which was founded in 2006 and employs 60 people, runs all of their company vehicles on their CNG (compressed natural gas), or as Kurtz likes to call it, QNG for quasar natural gas.
If you're thinking of the iconic scene in Back to the Future wherein Doc fills up the DeLorean with pickings from Marty's trash, "That's pretty much happening now," says Kurtz. "It just doesn't look like garbage when they put it in the engine. Right now," he adds, "we're running about 27 vehicles on QNG."
quasar's fleet includes semis, maintenance trucks, pick-up trucks and passenger vehicles. The company operates four CNG filling stations throughout Ohio that are open to the public. As of this writing, the cost was $2.25 per gallon.
The residual organics that feed quasar's anaerobic digesters come from a variety of sources including Wal-Mart and Pierre's Ice Cream, that would normally have to pay to haul the waste to a landfill or incinerator. Instead they pay quasar to remove it—for a lot less. Hence, the company is essentially being paid for its raw materials. In addition to farmers, quasar counts entities such as Cleveland Public Power among its among growing list of customers. They also use the natural gas they produce to fuel their facilities and the entire anaerobic digestion process.
Viable business model? Check.