Generic Biogas Digestion Process Cover

Distillers have been trying to figure out what to do with spent grains for centuries. Spent grains have dozens of uses from compost to fertilizer to feed for livestock. There are still lots of nutrients in that spent corn, rye or barley for livestock.  It can be shipped off premises still filled with water or separated and sent out dry. Both ways have their unique advantages and different costs.

Heaven Hill Distillery in partnership with Nature’s Methane has proposed a plan to build an Anaerobic Digester that will convert food waste (spent grain) into methane gas. Today, that waste is hauled off by trucks. The plant would be located on eight acres at 17th and Maple Streets in Louisville, KY next to the Heaven Hill Distillery. Nature’s Methane is seeking zoning approval to build the $40 million biodigester plant.

Further Reading: What is a Anaerobic Digester? 

A local group calling itself ‘The Coalition for a Sustainable West Louisville’ has placed three ads in The Courier-Journal newspaper aimed at stopping the plant. The group claims that the plant could produce sulfuric odors similar to having dozens of skunks continually running through the streets of West Louisville.

Another group called S.T.O.M.P. – Standing Together Opposing Methane GAS Plant is also opposing the plant. According to their Facebook page, the group was inspired by the Boston Tea Party and will stage a Louisville Tea Party, dumping Heaven Hill Distillers products. The group’s leader Sir Friendly C plans on meeting with the city’s mayor and reporting back to the group.

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According to the American Biogas Council’s Patrick Serfass, there are more than 2,000 digester tanks in operation throughout the US converting organic waste into natural gas. Most are waste water treatment plants, landfills and farms (think manure here.) More than a dozen of these across the country were specifically designed for food waste like the one Heaven Hill wants to build.

Over 2,000 Active Biogas Plants Active in US Today (Full Size Map)
Biomass Plants in USA
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Louisville city mayor, Greg Fischer supports the plan for its green friendly approach to sustainable energy but local residents are still skeptical. They are worried about pollution generated by the plant and the proximity to schools in the neighborhood. According to the Nature’s Methane website, a similar plant is in operation at a ConAgra plant about 25 miles away in Buckner, KY. That plant is about 500 yards from a local YMCA and about 1,000 yards for a sub-division filled with homes. The YMCA Director at that facility has indicated there have been no noticeable problems with this digester.

Similar Anaerobic Digester site 25 Miles East
Anaerbic Digestion - Buckner KY
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Site of Proposed Anaerobic Digester Site in Downtown Louisville
Heaven Hill Anaerobic Digester Proposed Location
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“These projects have the potential to help Louisville achieve many of its goals to become more sustainable,” said Mayor Greg Fischer. “I am pleased that Nature’s Methane will continue to meet with community members to provide education and listen to concerns, and am confident as people learn the facts about this process, that they will become more comfortable with these facilities. The digesters will add green jobs to our economy, and safely create clean, renewable energy.”

Larry Kass, Director of Trade Relations for Heaven Hill Brands, explained: “Heaven Hill Brands takes pride not only in our award winning Bourbons and portfolio of distilled spirits products, but also in the fact that we produce them in an environmentally responsible manner. As the 2014 Medium/Large Business winner of the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection’s Environmental Pacesetter Excellence Award, we were very interested when we were approached by Nature’s Methane to participate in a program that would drastically reduce the amount of spent grain that is hauled away each day by trucks or put into the MSD (Metropolitan Sewer District) system. The proposed bio-digesters at the 17th Street facility will allow Heaven Hill to directly pipe over our stillage to be naturally and safely processed, reducing truck traffic and lessening the burden on the city’s infrastructure and potential environmental impact. We strongly believe this is a proposal that solves problems for the California neighborhood community, rather than, as has been suggested, creates new ones.”

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