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Ogdensburg, Clarkson University join in sludge/renewable fuel program.

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OGDENSBURG — The city’s sludge could be the key to a high-tech, low-cost energy source that will benefit Ogdensburg and its taxpayers.

The city and Clarkson University, Potsdam, are collaborating on a proposed sludge-to-renewable-fuel pilot program.

The focus is the wastewater treatment plant on Railroad Street from which the city ships more than 2,000 tons of sludge annually to the Development Authority of the North Country landfill in Rodman at a cost of $39,000, soon to rise to $48,000. The city spends an additional $32,000 yearly to press the waste matter to separate water from it.

But a program at Clarkson’s Center for Advanced Materials Processing has had success in creating fuel oil and carbons.

“We’re part of an experiment,” City Manager John M. Pinkerton said, adding that if successful, it could be a model for other municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Mr. Pinkerton; Richard E. Partch, Clarkson professor of chemistry and biomolecular science, and Buffalo-based composites manufacturer United Materials are partners in the venture.

The goal is to apply for state grant to pay for a reactor setup at the plant that would take the sludge and press it in a super-heated setting. The final result of the process is water, carbon and fuel oil of sufficient grade to heat not only the wastewater treatment plant but other city buildings.

The water would be returned to the plant’s system and the carbon given away or sold.

“The conversion of several types of organics in water medium into fuel oil and/or carbon from which carbon fiber can be made has been one area of research at Clarkson University for several years,” Mr. Partch said Thursday. “The researchers there have only had available a reactor capable of treating small samples in a batch process under the required pressure and temperature conditions. Their dream of moving the technology into a pilot plant scale continuous reactor has now become a reality and the wastewater treatment plant of the city of Ogdensburg will be the planned location for its inaugural operation.”

Renewable energy considerations aside, Mr. Pinkerton doesn’t downplay the prospect of saving the city $80,000 a year.

“I don’t have to press it,” he said. “It just flows into the system.”

Mr. Partch agreed.

“The conversion of the organic material in the wastewater, the reduced need for semi-drying the mass before trucking to a landfill and the dollar value of the fuel oil and carbon produced will be greater than the cost of running the continuous reactor,” he said.

The estimated size and cost of a reactor have not been determined, nor are there any guarantees of the availability of state grants.

But Mr. Pinkerton knows how soon he would like to see the pilot program in place.

“Optimistically, this time next year,” he said.

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