Pioneers.That’s the word Rob Costanzo, the manager of engineering operations at the City of Surrey, uses to describe those behind the city’s new organic biofuel facility, which is to start processing organic waste this summer, turning it into renewable natural gas.

“We’re certainly pioneers with respect to bringing this technology to North America. There are not very many such facilities currently in existence here, though European countries have been using this technology for many years,” says Costanzo, adding that not only is Surrey’s organic biofuel facility one of the largest in North America, it’s also the only “closed-loop” version on the continent that will be involved in all parts of the process, from collecting and converting the waste to actually using it.

Costanzo says Surrey has been focusing on diverting waste from the landfill for at least a couple of decades. The city implemented a plan in the mid-1990s that called for 50 per cent waste diversion by 2000.

In 2011, Surrey adopted a new plan calling for 70 per cent waste diversion before 2015.

“To get us there, we realized the next frontier would be to collect food waste,” Costanzo says.

And, as of this year, that food waste will be converted into renewable energy at the City’s organic biofuel facility, a move Costanzo says will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40,000 metric tonnes per year.

“The City of Surrey is actually eliminating its carbon footprint through innovation and technology,” says Costanzo.

The organic biofuel facility comes with a price tag of $67.6-million and is a public-private partnership with Orgaworld Canada, under a design, build, finance, operate and maintain contract. The facility is located on city land.

According to the agreement between Orgaworld and Surrey, the city must deliver a minimum of 57,000 metric tonness of organic waste, which Costanzo says won’t be a problem considering Surrey currently collects some 65,000 metric tons curbside. The facility actually has the capacity to process 115,000 metric tonness of organic waste annually.

In turn, Orgaworld must produce a minimum of 100,000 gigajoules of renewable natural gas per year. The city will keep all the gas produced, using it to fuel Surrey’s fleet of 45 garbage trucks and other city vehicles.

“Any gas we don’t use in the fleet, we can sell to FortisBC at straight revenue,” Costanzo says.

When describing the process, Costanzo says “the biofuel facility essentially mimics what happens in a landfill and accelerates it.”

In a landfill, garbage is buried, covered with sand or clay and continually compressed downward. Air is removed and microbes then feed on the organic waste, producing biomethane. In Surrey’s organic biofuel facility, organic material will be put into one of the facility’s digesters, each of which can hold 500 metric tonnes of material. The digesters are sealed and oxygen is eliminated. Microbes feed on the waste and create biomethane.

“We then capture it and scrub it to grid quality,” Costanzo says. After capture and scrubbing, the gas will be injected into the local gas grid.

Compost cells in the facility will further process the organic waste. The compost will enter the local market for use by farmers, gardeners, wineries and orchards.

Costanzo says the total process — from curbside collection to gas extraction and compost production — takes approximately 50 days.

The organic biofuel facility boasts what Costanzo describes as a “state-of-the-art” odour-control system, addressing one of the primary concerns associated with such facilities.

“This facility will set the bar very, very high in terms of odour control,” says Costanzo, explaining that one third of the project’s capital cost was spent on odour mitigation.

The facility is located on a 6.6-acre site with the nearest household more than one kilometre away. Costanzo says there will be no odour impact on those people beyond the facility’s property line because the air “is channeled through a very sophisticated system” that involves ammonia scrubbers, cooling and wood-chip-based biofilters.

“It’s cleaned, cooled, pushed through wood chips and then sent up a 70-metre stack. When it comes off the top of the stack, the air won’t have more than one part per million (of odour-causing matter) at the site property line,” Costanzo explains.

The facility’s water usage will also register as neutral because, as Costanzo explains, the “juice” that comes off the organic waste will be captured, delivered into the fermenter in which the biology and bugs are produced, and then subsequently pumped into the facility’s reactors where the liquid will be sprayed on the material from nozzles along the ceiling.

“We’re very proud of the fact that this facility won’t be using added water,” says Costanzo.

Surrey’s organic biofuel facility is currently in its “cold-commissioning phase,” which involves testing it without adding actual waste to make sure “all its parts are working.” By this summer, the facility will start receiving its first curbside loads and will start producing renewable natural gas by late summer/early fall.