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Snohomish-based business converts landfill waste into electricity October 5, 2009

Filed under: Biofuels,Landfill Gas,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 10:47 am
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After four years and only one contract, many companies would call it quits.

But Paul Tower kept his Snohomish-based business afloat. He took a second job. He wrote papers for engineering conferences. He waited.

Thirteen years and 167 projects later, Tower’s Applied Filter Technology is looking to expand at a time when few businesses are.

Applied Filter takes low-grade methane — from landfill waste, cow manure or municipal waste systems — and turns it into fuel to generate electricity.

“What we specialize in is getting the gas to a point where it can be used,” Tower said.

That technology is in demand as consumers increasingly demand cleaner sources of power and more environmentally friendly ways for dealing with waste. That’s why Applied Filter Technology recently won a $7 million contract to expand Klickitat County’s H.W. Hill Landfill Gas Power Plant.

The landfill, established in 1999, accepts tons of waste, with large quantities coming from King and Snohomish counties, said Darby Hanson, project engineer for the site.

“This landfill keeps growing all the time,” Hanson said.

The landfill’s existing waste-to-gas project, which has the capacity to produce roughly 10 megawatts of power, can’t keep up with the waste being sent there. The county, with the help of Applied Filter, plans to expand the plant’s capacity to about 37 megawatts.

“It’s enough to light thousands of homes in Washington,” Tower said.

Some of that electricity will flow back to Snohomish County as part of the PUD’s green power program.

Hanson liked Applied Filter’s bid because it came with a 10-year guarantee of producing electricity-grade gas, making Klickitat’s system easier and less expensive to operate. When the economy turns around, Hanson is confident that Klickitat will be able to find buyers for all the power that will be produced at the expanded site — at a profitable rate. The expansion is scheduled to be completed next summer.

For Tower’s Applied Filter, contracts like the one in Klickitat County translate into jobs. The company, which has a staff of five in Snohomish, will have 12 or 13 people working on the Klickitat project.

On a Friday afternoon in late September, Tower fields calls of interest from South Korea and France out of his Snohomish office and plans customer trips to Applied Filter Technology sites in California and the Midwest. Far from those lean early years, Applied Filter installs a project monthly on average. And demand doesn’t seem to be slowing, prompting Tower to consider expansion.

“I think people are changing their perspectives and want a better quality of life,” Tower said.

Despite a lack of consensus about the causes of global warming, the public generally supports efforts to reduce known contributors to global warming, Tower said. Applied Filter Technology helps isolate one of those known contributors — methane — and turns it into something useful.

“I think all of us as ratepayers believe an incremental step is better than no step,” he said.

That’s particularly true in the Pacific Northwest, where Tower located in 2000 from California. However, the Klickitat County project is Applied Filter’s only system in Washington. About two-thirds of Applied Filter Technology’s projects are in the United States, but the company has systems operating in Europe, the Pacific Rim and Canada.

Besides an increasing public demand for “green” products, Applied Filter’s business also benefited from declines in the costs to produce its systems. In the 13 years since the business sold that first system, costs have dropped about 40 percent, Tower said. The company has worked with a manufacturer in Iowa to standardize parts to help drive down costs.

As Applied Filter Technology has grown, so has its ability to help out prospective customers. The company can design, build and operate systems for municipalities, removing the major barriers: start-up and operating costs. Applied Filter owns and operates about 23 of the systems it has installed for municipalities.

That’s a long ways from Applied Filter’s beginnings. For Tower, the company’s success is hard to believe.

Back in 1996, “we were just trying to solve a problem for a customer,” he said.

Michelle Dunlop, HeraldNet


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