As the hillsides of Sun Valley slowly turn green, so, too, is the focus of the city's City Council. On Wednesday, May 16, the council heard a presentation from Idaho-based Intrepid Technology and Resources about the potential of turning bovine waste into a clean-burning fuel source.
The possibility that the city may incorporate biofuel into its energy use is in the very early stages. The issue was on Wednesday's meeting agenda so council members could bounce questions and concerns off Intrepid CEO Dennis Keiser.
Intrepid is a member of Chicago Climate Exchange, the world's first and North America's only voluntary, legally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction and trading system. According to Keiser, Intrepid is also the first company to successfully convert gas from animal waste to pure methane.
Animals, and cattle in particular, produce more methane each year than the world's combined industrial output, Keiser said. Methane is a clean-burning fuel that is the primary component in natural gas. However, when released into the air, methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is roughly 18 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
Sun Valley is considering harnessing Intrepid's ingenuity to reduce the city's carbon footprint. Wednesday's discussion was another step toward fulfilling the obligations in the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, signed by Mayor Jon Thorson in January. The agreement calls on mayors to do what the federal government declined to do—follow the obligations of the Kyoto Protocol, a greenhouse-gas-reduction pact signed by the United States but never ratified by the Senate. Mayors will strive to reduce their cities' greenhouse gas levels by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
"Our business is being green," Keiser said.
While the company's exact methods are a trade secret, the process begins with cow manure that is placed in an anaerobic digester for five days. The digester breaks the waste down into a biogas that is a methane-carbon dioxide mix (roughly 80 percent methane). A solid waste is also produced that can be used as a fertilizer similar to peat moss.
"I'd be interested in working with Sun Valley Company on the golf course," Keiser said.
Currently, the carbon dioxide is separated out and released into the air—a carbon neutral process. Another option is to circulate carbon dioxide through ponds, promoting algae growth. The algae are a potential feed stock for the animals, closing the loop of a fully sustainable, carbon-neutral cycle.
Keiser said biofuel purchased by Sun Valley could be added to the Intermountain Gas Co. natural gas pipeline system, where it would be "swapped on a molecule-for-molecule basis" with natural gas. Sun Valley residents and businesses would buy the gas at the same price as natural gas mined from the earth, Keiser said, but the city would receive credit for reducing its carbon footprint.
Keiser also made a presentation Wednesday to the KART/Peak bus board on the possibility of using biofuel in its buses.