by Joni Astrup
Three engines that help turn landfill gas into electricity were replaced recently at the Elk River Landfill, in a process that requires a crane to lift the 26,000-pound units.
Tom Sagstetter, conservation and key accounts manager for Elk River Municipal Utilities, said every five years the engines are removed and replaced with rebuilt ones. The old engines are then sent to Illinois for a major overhaul before being installed in another power plant somewhere in the United States.
The engines at the Elk River Landfill plant, located at 22460 Highway 169, run 24 hours a day and are replaced after 45,000 to 50,000 hours, he said. The plant was built so the engines can be slid in and out on skids to minimize lost production time.
The gas-to-electricity project opened in 2002 with three Caterpillar engine generators. In 2006 a fourth one was added.
The project is a cooperative effort involving Sherburne County, Elk River Municipal Utilities, Waste Management and the city of Elk River.
The plant takes gas produced by decomposing garbage and turns it into electricity. The facility produces enough electricty to supply 2,000 to 2,500 homes or the equivalent of about 10 percent of the energy used by residents and businesses in Elk River.
The gas is collected through an intricate network of wells and pipes. The wells are 60 to 120 feet deep.
Sagstetter said there is enough gas from the landfill to power more electric generators. In the future, he said they hope to add two to three additional engines.