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USU algae researchers to continue at new plant

By David Berg
On April 17, 2014

Logan city is constructing a new wastewater treatment facility to meet federal standards that must be met by 2017 to replace the wastewater lagoons being used.

The Sustainable Waste to Bioproducts Energy Center at USU makes use of the city’s lagoons. It is researching a method using algae growth to meet the standards set forth. However, there is not enough time to finish the development of the research and implement the changes by its deadline.

“We need another three years, but the timetable is not that,” said Ronald Simms, department head of biological engineering and co-director of SWBEC.

The current method to clean the waste water of Logan and the surrounding communities, including USU, is the lagoon system that is located on the west side of Cache Valley. The 460-acre lagoon system, as well as the additional 240 acres of wetlands, is the largest of its kind in the United States.

Fifteen million gallons of water is received into the system each day. After 90 days in the facility, the water is safe for irrigation purposes.

Issa Hamud, environmental director for Logan city and co-director of SWBEC, said the new standards initially concerned phosphorus levels in the water. The state of Utah then increased the standards to include ammonia and nitrogen levels.

The new facility will meet these standards and is scheduled to be fully completed by 2019. It will be on new property also on the west side of the valley. Hamud said it will cost Logan around $111.6 million.

“The majority of it will be a technical plant,” Hamud said.

Some benefits of the new plant will be a smaller size in acreage while being able to clean water at a faster rate.

Along with Logan and USU, the cities of Nibley, Providence, River Heights, North Logan, Hyde Park and Smithfield have all sent waste water to the lagoon system since its creation 50 years ago.

With the new project in the works, there is concern that debt incurred by the Logan-led initiative will affect these outlying communities as well. There is also a concern that it will led to an increase in utility bill costs.

"We would rather see a sewer district than a contract system," said Lloyd Berentzen, mayor of North Logan.

A sewer district would allow for greater representation of the other cities, all of which are experiencing exponential growth.

Berentzen said Logan Mayor Craig Petersen is stepping up in building an understanding between Logan and the other cities.

After the new plant is constructed, the lagoon system will no longer be used by the city. However, some of the facility will still be used by SWBEC to further their research. Simms said when the scale-up process of the research is completed, the research could serve as an add-on to the new plant as well as to help other communities using lagoon systems.

SWBEC was started in 2010. The main aspect of the research conducted by it involves using the high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in the wastewater to grow algae. This algae can then be harvested and made into several different products.

“We can take waste not valued by society and turn it into a resource,” Simms said.

Simms said the algae can be used to produce cattle and fish feed, pigments for genetic tags and transportation fuel. Using waste as a resource would lessen taxes for local populations.

“We will create new industries,” he said.

SWBEC receives funds from both Logan city and the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative . Simms said the research is being driven by students, both undergraduate and graduate. He said one important part of the idea of it being student led is that the students would then be able to take their expertise to different companies and institutions after they finish their degrees here at USU.

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