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Banff ponders profitable poop

The Town of Banff is in talks with a private company to turn its composted sewage sludge and organics into a new and more marketable product.

The Town of Banff is in talks with a private company to turn its composted sewage sludge and organics into a new and more marketable product.

Banff council has directed its administration to enter into negotiations with N-Viro Systems Canada LP that would lead to that company processing and marketing a new product.

Retrofitting the wastewater treatment plant is expected to cost the municipality $1.2 million in start-up capital costs, but council wants more details on whether the municipality or N-Viro should actually purchase the equipment.

Town officials say they have simply had no luck in finding a market for the accumulating compost from the wastewater treatment plant and organics diversion program.

“We’re producing a beautiful product now, but there’s nowhere for it to go,” said Paul Godfrey, the Town of Banff’s operations manager.

“This new product is a demonstrated product; it’s not something being done in beakers in a science lab. This will give us a market.”

N-Viro is a company that specialises blending waste by-products of separate processes, which in this case, is biosolids, source separate organics, lime kiln dust and cement kiln dust.

The 6,000 tonnes of product the company would produce annually in Banff would be different than compost. It will be either a fertilizer or a soil amendment.

The company would then market this product for agricultural and land-reclamation use such as reclamation of mining sites.

The Town of Banff was already planning to build a composting pad at a cost of $430,000, and the thinking is that money could be redirected toward this new project.

As well, there are expected to be operating savings to the tune of about $164,000 every year under the proposed change.

Councillor Leslie Taylor supported the idea, but wants to see how the municipality can mitigate risks before entering into a 10-year contract.

One of her main areas of concern, she said, was not being able to recoup the Town’s upfront costs if the company had trouble selling the product and wanted out after five years.

“I’m anxious to see how we’re mitigating the risks, but having said that, I think this is a really good idea,” she said. “Unless the risk appears unmitigable, I’m going to support this at the next stage, too.”

The company’s president, Rob Sampson, said he had plans to start talking immediately to key agricultural and soil remediation markets.

“We’re quite confident these markets can be developed,” he said.

Banff’s wastewater treatment plant was upgraded in 2002, including an in-vessel composting facility. In 2006, it was further upgraded to accommodate diversion of food waste organics.

During the wastewater treatment process, biosolids (also referred to as sewage sludge) settle out of the wastewater stream and undergo primary and secondary treatment.

At the plant, biosolids are de-watered by centrifuge and taken to the composting facility where they are mixed with food waste, sawdust and wood chips, then placed inside in-vessel compositing tunnels.

For 18-24 days, the compost heats to kill pathogens and then must be cured outside for an additional six to 12 months in order to create a finished compost product.

The offsite curing has historically occurred at Castle Mountain Landfill, where it was used for site rehabilitation, but Parks Canada has long told the Town that is no longer an option.

“There is now a significant amount of compost stockpiled, estimated in excess of 40,000 cubic metres, with more arriving weekly,” said Godfrey.

By comparison, Banff council was told Canmore’s annual costs to haul their biosolids to landfill is more than $500,000.

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