BY JOHN COX The Bakersfield Californian

Food processors, dairies and others in Kern County may soon have a new place to send their organic waste — and with it, a new source of renewable, compressed natural gas.

This month, two state agencies awarded grants totaling $8 million to help fund construction of a $25-million biogas digester outside Tulare believed to be the first commercial-scale project of its kind in the Central Valley.

Newport Beach-based Colony Energy Partners’ project would take in a total of 500 tons per day of material such as food waste, yard trimmings, fats and even cow manure. It would come from any facility or municipality between Bakersfield and Modesto.

The 18-acre plant proposed near Paige Avenue would heat up the mixture to produce transportation-grade methane equivalent to more than 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel per day for commercial and municipal vehicle fleets. Leftover solids could serve as a soil amendment.

Colony says the project, expected to begin operation by the end of next year, offers three primary benefits: reduced emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas; less waste diverted to landfills and additional renewable transportation fuel.

“Think of us like a landfill,” said Kent Hawkins, Colony’s managing partner. He added the company is in negotiations with haulers, food processors and other companies that would pay Colony to take their organic waste.

CalRecycle contributed $3 million to the project last week, and on Wednesday the California Energy Commission added $5 million.

The commission estimates the project will produce about 400 million cubic feet of renewable biomethane per year. It said the digester would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 41,850 metric tons per year, while reducing nitrous oxides by more than 35 tons per year.

In a written statement Thursday, Commission Chairman Robert B. Weisenmiller said the agency’s grant award is intended to promote greater use of alternative and renewable fuels.

“We aim to transform the transportation sector to help meet California’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum dependence,” he wrote. “And this biogas project has the added benefit of economic stimulus in the San Joaquin Valley.”

Since July, Colony has processed food waste at a Fresno plant handling up to 30 tons per day. The company has also proposed a liquid natural gas facility near Reno, Nev.

If the Tulare project takes off as expected, Hawkins said, its capacity could be doubled to process 1,000 tons of organic waste per day.

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