Biofuel Problems Persist at New Indiana Jail
(03/05/2009)

ELKHART, Ind. — More than a year after the $97 million Elkhart County Jail’s opening, problems continue to stymie an alternative energy plan to meet the new 936-bed facility’s heating demands.

The 400,000-square-foot facility incorporates a flexible-fuel heating system designed to harness the plentiful supply of methane produced by decomposing garbage from a nearby landfill. Using methane to fuel the system, which can also operate on natural gas, was projected to generate up to $300,000 in annual energy savings.

However, the system has encountered persistent problems in processing the methane since the facility came on line in November 2007, forcing the officials to rely on natural gas. The county spent more than $500,000 on natural gas to supply heat and hot water during the first year of operation.

With approximately $1 million invested in equipment and infrastructure, officials remain determined to solve the equipment problems and system glitches. System synchronicity could be the key that finally unlocks the substantial projected annual cost savings of the methane alternative, officials say.

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The system’s inability to process the methane likely stems from a lack of compatible interface and coordination between the computerized management systems that control and regulate the equipment that transports and processes the methane, officials say.

The methane collection system includes a compressor pump and pipeline that collect and transport the methane from the landfill to the jail’s utility building for processing. The methane is processed by two boilers, which convert the gas into steam to provide heat and hot water for the facility.

Equipment upgrades, including the installation of additional monitoring instrumentation, should improve synchronization between the various components to allow the proper regulation and processing of methane flows necessary for trouble-free operation, officials say. The system fix could cost up to $30,000.

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