WOOSTER, Ohio — Wearing plastic boot covers over his shoes — a white hard hat with his name printed on the side, and the name Quasar Energy Group printed on the front — Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland walked the grounds of a construction site that promises clean energy, a better environment and more jobs for Ohioans.
On March 29, on a trip that also included a news conference in Cleveland to discuss offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes, the Governor saw firsthand a 550,000 gallon biomass digester officials say will power about one-third of the energy needs of Ohio State University’s Wooster OARDC Campus.
Officials with Quasar answered the governor’s questions and demonstrated the capacity of the unit with various diagrams. It’s projected to create an energy output of 485 kilowatts of electricity and 2.3 million Btu annually.
As a digester, it works much the same as a person’s stomach, converting feedstock like food and animal waste into methane and energy, leaving behind a nutritional product for the land.
Strickland said he was convinced the project was a good investment since his wife, Frances, visited OARDC last year. But he went right to the point in asking when the technology will benefit Ohioans.
“How long will it take you until you know that it works?” he asked.
“It already works,” replied Clemens Halene, Quasar’s vice president of engineering. He took the governor outside, to show him the heat already being generated from the unit.
Quasar was awarded $2 million from Ohio’s Third Frontier Advanced Energy Program in December — an initiative to help connect research of new technologies, with the commercial sector.
The company’s president, Mel Kurtz, said the state could justify 7,000 digesters like the one built in Wooster, enough to produce 25 percent of the motor vehicle fuel consumed in Ohio.
He admits those are tall numbers, and at a time when livestock farmers are facing many challenges, including a struggling dairy market. But what Ohioans and farmers get back — clean water, fertilizer and energy, make it attractive.
The digester is being built by local builder Simonson Construction Services, of Ashland, Ohio. And it’s using local materials and local subcontractors.
”I’m happy to hear that much of the work and much of the actual equipment here comes from Ohio, and comes from the local industry and you’re using local workers providing local employment,” Strickland said.
Strickland seemed impressed with the number of benefits — new energy, improved air and water quality and a fertilizer byproduct.
“I haven’t seen a downside to this process yet,” he said toward the end of his tour.
Digesters also are one more effort toward independence from foreign oil — a commodity he said has kept Ohioans hostage.
“It seems to me that there’s been a major shift in public attitude as a result of that,” he said. “And now we are looking for things that we can do for ourselves that will help meet our energy needs.”
While in Cleveland, the governor discussed the “viable” resources of Lake Erie. Because the lake is fairly shallow offshore, potential exists for offshore wind turbines.
He said Ohio already has mapped the lake and determined it is a good location for turbines, and an excellent location for fish production.
The governor will continue his visit to OSU March 30 — this time on the main campus in Columbus — where he will help announce Ohio’s Center of Excellence in Agriculture, Food Production and Bioproducts — an honor that recognizes OSU’s efforts to align itself with industries that drive the State’s economy.
He will be joined by Ohio Agriculture Director Robert Boggs; Eric Fingerhut, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents; and Bobby Moser, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.