Metro Louisville To Try New Approach to Methane-Energy Project

Mayor announces effort to answer citizen concerns about green energy investments

Company will offer revised proposal for biodigester within two months

 LOUISVILLE  – Citing the need for greater understanding of green-energy-producing biodigesters in Louisville, Mayor Greg Fischer today announced that an Indiana company will spend the next two months listening to and addressing concerns before seeking formal approval of a proposed methane-energy project at 17th and Maple streets.

“Residents of West Louisville have historically suffered from environmental problems created by our community’s past. They deserve to have their valid concerns heard and answered,” Fischer said. “They also deserve to hear the science and facts about the waste-reducing, renewable-energy-generating investments proposed by Star Energy Holdings and Nature’s Methane, and the projects deserve consideration.”

“Given the historical experience of West Louisville, we understand the very real concerns about safety and quality-of-life impacts,” said Steve Estes, CEO of Star Energy Holdings, the parent company of Indiana-based Nature’s Methane. “We are committed to answering questions, addressing concerns and showing how we are a different kind of corporate neighbor.”

Star Energy plans to invest up to $40 million in a green energy facility at 17th and Maple streets that will recycle organic leftovers, including material created in the distilling of bourbon at Heaven Hill’s adjacent Bernheim Distillery.

Rather than ship out 30 to 40 daily truckloads of “stillage” through the neighborhood for disposal or placing this material in the MSD sewer system where it goes for treatment at the Morris Forman Wastewater Treatment Plant, the proposed facility will transfer the material underground to enclosed, airless tanks, where the natural breakdown of organic materials will create and capture methane for commercial energy use.

This process is nearly identical to the natural breakdown of food scraps and yard waste in a backyard compost pile. However, rather than allowing the methane produced to escape into the environment where it can contribute to the breakdown of ozone in the atmosphere, as is the case with the compost pile, a digester captures it and adds it to the existing natural gas pipeline that runs through the city for use in homes and businesses.

Star Energy plans to use the latest technology created by GE Power and Water, which is being safely used in hundreds of communities across the globe, and is considering a proposal from GE to operate these facilities. GE’s facilities are designed and operated to ensure that the gas is contained in a safe and sustainable system that prevents the gas from igniting.

As part of their plan to listen and provide answers to the community, Star Energy will continue meeting with community and business leaders, offer tours of nearby biodigesters to them, and share information on the success of other biodigesters around the country.

Fischer said the two-month period will provide an opportunity for citizens across Louisville to become more educated on this expanding technology.  “Like all projects of this nature, it will go through the regular permitting process, including opportunity for public comment,” Fischer said.  “The concerns of our citizens need to be heard and evaluated.”

A number of other communities in the United States have adopted biodigesters as a strategy to reduce truck traffic associated with organic waste disposal, remove organic solids from their landfills and create clean, safe, sustainable energy. Most recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency partnered with the City of San Jose, California to announce the first anniversary of a large-scale commercial digester built to help the city meet its goal of achieving zero waste diverted to its landfill by 2022. Other municipal digesters are operating or under construction in hundreds of communities across the nation.

“Biodigesters offer a tested, safe technology for turning food waste into clean energy,” said Keith Hackett, Louisville Metro Director of Solid Waste Management Services. “With Louisville’s goals of reduced landfill use, increased recycling and alternate energy production, our community needs to continue to explore opportunities like biodigesters, which provide green energy and green jobs.”

“This approach reduces the organic leftovers we put into our sewer system and landfills, something we all pay for in this community,” said Maria Koetter, Director of the Office of Sustainability. “It also helps us reach our goal to become a more sustainable Louisville, a goal that is good for every neighborhood in our city.”  Koetter noted that this approach is being used safely and effectively at other locations in the Louisville area – including an Oldham County facility adjacent to the YMCA branch in Buckner.

Fact Sheet on Proposed Biodigester

The Proposal: Nature’s Methane is a subsidiary of Star Energy Holdings, LLC, a renewable energy developer focused on anaerobic digestion technology that converts food scraps and other organic materials that would otherwise be thrown away to pipeline-quality natural gas and high quality organic solids that can be used in agriculture. With a $40 million investment that will create 10 new jobs, the proposed biodigester would pipe in distillers grains from Heaven Hill (no trucking required), supplemental food waste delivered from grocery stores and other high-volume generators, and fats, oils and greases from food service operations.

The Facility will be Designed to Minimize or Eliminate Odor.  The facility will be designed to minimize or eliminate odor during receiving and processing of materials. The building is designed to be pressure controlled so that when doors open to allow a truck to enter, air flows in rather than out. Doors will be designed to open and close in a matter of seconds to minimize air flow. Trucks will not unload materials until the building door closes. All materials will be placed in the delivery tank within 24 hours of arrival so that there is no long-term storage of unprocessed materials on the site. The receiving floor inside the building will be washed down nightly to ensure a clean environment. The building is also designed to move aid through a biofilter that removes all odor-causing particles three times per hour around the clock. Anaerobic digestion happens in the absence of oxygen, and without oxygen, we can’t smell things, so once materials are placed into the receiving tanks where they will circulate through the digester in a closed system, no smell from these materials will exist.

The Facility will be Safe.  Methane, carbon dioxide and oxygen must be mixed together in very specific quantities and be exposed to a source of ignition, such as a spark, flame or other heat source, before methane can catch fire. Nature’s Methane is in negotiation with GE Power and Water to use its line of Monsal advanced anaerobic digestion technology, which is currently operating in over 250 facilities with exemplary safety records. There are a number of layered systems designed to ensure safe operation and the elimination of oxygen from the process. Other systems ensure that byproducts of the natural digestion process are collected and disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. Additionally, all personnel working at the facility will be trained operators, and Nature’s Methane is reviewing a proposal for GE to provide operational oversight in its Louisville facilities.

The Facility Will Reduce Waste Going to the Landfill and Create Sustainable Energy.  Biodigesters keep organic waste out of landfills and capture energy that is released as these materials decompose. As organic materials break down, regardless of where the decomposition happens, they release methane gas, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, and 21 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat. Biodigesters eliminate methane emissions and provide a safe, renewable way to produce the same gas that we use in our homes and businesses. The proposed Nature’s Methane facility will keep organic materials out of the landfill, which is where most materials generated by homes and businesses in Louisville are currently sent. The facility will produce clean natural gas through a process that is less reliant on fossil fuels than other methods of natural gas production. This project achieves a Vision Louisville/Sustain Louisville goal of developing a waste-to-energy facility in Louisville.

The Facility Potentially Reduces Trucks in the Area. Currently, stillage from the Heaven Hill distillery is trucked out of the neighborhood in both large and small trucks that go to area farms where the material is used to feed hogs and other livestock. The Nature’s Methane facility will reduce the number of trucks that are required to take this material away from the distillery, as much of it will be sent to the digester. Biodigesters use naturally-occurring bacteria to break down organic materials. These bacteria need more than one source of “food” to be healthy, just like all other living things, which means that some trucks will come to the digester to provide supplemental materials to add to the stillage. However, the project will result in a net decrease in truck traffic.

Biodigesters Are Used Throughout Our Community and Nation.  Biodigesters are used across the country to reduce waste and create green energy, and are operating or under construction in hundreds of cities, including in Oldham County, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Jose, CA, Longmont, CO, and St. Louis, MO. There are at least three digesters operating in or very near Louisville today, but these facilities have such a low impact on surrounding properties that most neighbors have no idea that they exist. The US Environmental Protection Agency maintains a webpage focused on the use of anaerobic digestion as a safe and sustainable practice for cities and agricultural operations and promotes the use of this technology across the nation. Learn more: