News

Sludge Deal Still Stinks

By Praesto Presto
Published May 10, 2011

City Council is currently debating whether to sign on with the Liberty Energy sewage sludge gasification plant which has been in and out of the news for the past few years. The plant will be designed to incinerate and dispose of sewage treatment waste.

City Council is being asked to sign a contract with Liberty Energy, giving the company a valuable service agreement which would help finance their development.

While there is a debate about the viability and environmental credibility of the technology, Council is missing the broader point here. This is being treated as a public works issue but it is much more than that: it is also an economic development, tourism, image, and talent attraction issue.

The problem is that Liberty Energy's plan is not about just creating a facility to handle Hamilton's own waste. If that was the case, you could argue that this would simply be about us taking care of our own waste. Indeed, that was what staff had recommended to Council in the past.

However, Liberty's plans are much bigger. Their plan will have truckloads of sewage sludge coming into our city each day from surrounding communities. We will quite literally be the repository for Ontario's crap. All the spin doctoring and all the "look on the bright side - it's creating jobs" platitudes will not overcome the negative damage this would do to Hamilton's reputation which is finally, FINALLY, starting to change.

Interestingly, city staff had originally recommended against signing a contract, but after former Mayor Larry Di Ianni was hired as a lobbyist by the company, they have now changed their recommendation.

The Liberty Energy plant is going to be a huge step back for Hamilton, a city which is constantly struggling to improve its image to become a place of choice for mobile talent who can pick anywhere to live. Most people are predisposed to thinking negatively about Hamilton and this development will only reinforce the stereotypes that define our image to the world.

At the very least, we should not heavily invest public dollars, through the agreement that is on the table, to help this initiative move forward.

Praesto Presto is a political analyst working in the non-profit sector at the federal level. Formerly residing in Ottawa, she has returned to Hamilton, where municipal affairs are once again grabbing her attention. She understands the minefield of federal politics well enough to prefer a pseudonym.

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By JMorse (registered) | Posted May 10, 2011 at 21:59:50

Amen. The optics of this could hardly be worse. This seems to be moving along a bit too quietly.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2011 at 22:12:48

My understanding, based on a different spectator article on the issue, was that Liberty Energy already has all the necessary permissions to build their own incinerator facility (presumably the one which would handle waste from other municipalities) and that signing up Hamilton would only increase the size of their incinerator. Failing to sign up Hamilton will not stop the incinerator altogether.

Also worth noting, the options council is considering include: Partner with Liberty, contract with Liberty to handle our waste, or build our own incinerator. "No incinerators in Hamilton" does not appear to be an option that's open to the city.

It would appear that all of the above options require Hamilton "invest dollars" in the plan, although whether it is in capital, or in annual fees, and what Hamilton will have to show for it seem to be the main differences.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 11, 2011 at 00:19:06

We need to stop burning biomass. Taking carbon and other elements from the ground and putting them up into the air causes too many problems on both ends. We're facing a global crisis right now over the carbon content of our soils and air, and both seriously threaten both human life and the natural world.

Some ways of burning things are far better than others - not only do you get more energy from a more efficient fire, but the emissions are much cleaner. Technologies like microwave plasma gasification hold a lot of promise for this reason. Liberty's gasification technology is better than many, but it's still sending it up.

We could sequester billions of tons of carbon very quickly, easily and cheaply in soil. But to break down high-carbon materials (like wood), you need a source of nitrogen - and each of us produces several pounds of that per day. The resulting reaction produces large amounts of heat and methane fuel, as well, which would nicely compliment slashing our need for natural gas-based nitrogen fertilizers. At present, this doesn't work well because we centralize our entire city's waste-water before composting, which tends to toxify the results ("biosolids"). If we're going to choose another system, then let's think it through.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted May 11, 2011 at 08:03:08 in reply to Comment 63358

We could sequester billions of tons of carbon very quickly, easily and cheaply in soil.

I don't think so Undustrial, this goes way beyond a mere carbon sink. Everything people put down their drains is in the sludge and we do not want all that placed directly on the top spoil bud!

If we're going to choose another system, then let's think it through.

I wonder if you have ever seen this sludge or even held IT in your hands Undustrial. Have you felt the texture and smelt the nectar? Now that's something to thoroughly think through my friend as you go get yourself a sample to begin experimenting with IT on your own but, before handling PLEASE do not forget, to first grab yourself a copy of the MSDS spec.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 11, 2011 at 12:35:20 in reply to Comment 63366

Exactly why centralized processing of all of the city's sewage and runoff is a bad idea. As I mentioned above. But that's a problem of bad engineering, not an inherent issue with human waste. Soils need those nutrients.

Also, if we're worried about motor oil and industrial runoff creating toxicity in composted sewage, doesn't this also present problems when effectively vaporizing it?

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 08:09:45

Anyone else reminded of Hamilton's slapstick mid-90s experiment with privatising control of its water/wastewater?

http://replay.web.archive.org/20100812120717/http://www.cbc.ca/news/features/water/hamilton.html

www.citizen.org/documents/LiquidAssets.pdf

s.cela.ca/files/uploads/public_private_paper.pdf

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By Copenhagen (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 08:26:56

Copenhagen...does Copenhagen suffer some kind of social stigma because they use sewage sludge for energy? That Copenhagen facilities handle sewage sludge from surrounding communities?
That they have several sewage sludge incinerators in town?

No..they are the voted the 'most liveable city', 'best city in the world', 'greenest city in Europe'.

You can swim in the harbour in Copenhagen



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By Le Poivre Rose (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 08:33:10 in reply to Comment 63368

Edwin Heathcote in the Friday’s Financial Times:

"Vancouver’s boringly consistent topping of the polls underlines the fundamental fault that lies at the heart of the idea of measuring cities by their 'liveability'. The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur: Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities? Nope. Americans in particular seem to get wound up by the lack of US cities in the top tier. The one that does make it is Pittsburgh. Which winds them up even more."

http://goo.gl/A1124

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By Blackmail (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 09:15:02

The latest line is that the choice is between "one incinerator or two" because Liberty is going to build anyways. This is the same old blackmail tactic that tries to put us into a corner and then push us to pay out millions and millions of public dollars in city contracts.

I say we keep separate from Liberty and make damn sure that their operations are monitored. If we sign a massive contract with them, we are in a conflict in terms of enforcing laws against them.

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By Scamilton (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 09:17:55

Anyone see Di Ianni's show last night? They had on an "impartial" panel talking about this issue. Surprise, surprise, they all suggested the City sign on with Liberty. Doesn't Larry have a bit of a conflict as he is a lobbyist for the company and is using his show for the same purpose?

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By Stinks (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 09:20:59

What I worry about is all the trucks that are going to bring the sludge into the city. Given the whole truck route fiasco, are we going to have toxic sludge going through our neighbourhoods? What if it spills? Is it going to smell? What impact does this have on our quality of life...our property values? I want answers!!!!!

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By rayfullerton (registered) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 09:56:53

Liberty Energy is too RISKY an investment;

  1. NO fuel contracts for biosolids or biomass with other communities, trying since September 2008

  2. UNPROVEN technology of co-firing 70% biosolids and 30% biomass

  3. UNPROVEN air pollution control components on biosolids combustion systems eg SCR

  4. UNHEALTY due to environmental risks ( stack emissions and 26,000 trucks/yr) in CODE RED AREA

  5. 10X larger capacity incinerator than City(Liberty = 500,000 tonnes/yr, City = 50,000 tonnes/yr)

  6. DETRIMENTAL to City image, not worthy of marketing brochure

  7. REJECTED by four cities in California (Imperial,Brawley, Niland & Banning)

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By rayfullerton (registered) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 10:05:35

OPTION 4 STATUS QUO: LAND APPLICATION OF SLUDGE AT $73/tonne

NOTE: 2010 City produced 38,567 wet tonnes of biosolids (sludge)

  1. Sludge quality has improved ( less metals) due to enforcement of Sewer Use By-Law which has resulted in 3x increase in application rate from 8 tonnes/hectare to 22 tonnes/hectare

  2. In January 2011, the Provincial Nutrient Management Act is encouraging the application of sludge on land to increase nutrients.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 10:59:17 in reply to Comment 63377

Basic math time!

From here

The public-private partnership is estimated to cost the city at least $151.3 million over 30 years.

So, 30 years of 38,567 tonnes is $84,461,730. I tried factoring in a sludge increase of about 0.6% each year (based on the City's population growth estimates) and 2% inflation, and came up with $116,743,818.52, but take that number with a grain of salt.

Another consideration is where we get these 22 hectares per tonne. Can this be spread on farmers fields?

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By rayfullerton (registered) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 11:16:21

The City contracts out sludge application; the contractor stockpiles sludge and manages the application of sludge on farm land on a voluntary basis.

Review reports from May 9/11 GIC:

7.1 (a)

http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/07C9...

7.1 (b)

http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/2588...

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By Justsayno (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 11:54:45

City Hall really needs to have their heads examined...we just start to emerge from the stereotype of "Steeltown" and now we are moving to "Sludgetown" - That is ten times worse than any of the negative elements associated with the steel industry which has an upside and is still something to be proud of.

Time to write your council member and tell them to vote against this!

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By panoply (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 12:01:04

I just read some of the reports that Fullerton alluded to. Let me get this straight: sludge is really human waste or whatever is left of it after it is treated. This waste has all kinds of contaminants still in it, according to what I read. And the city spreads this stuff on our arable farmland? Where we grow vegetables and fruit? Give our heads a shake. This company wants to dispose of it through some complicated process and not allow it go in our food supply. I say take the deal if that's the case. What am I missing? Crappy food versus incineration....not a stretch for me.

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By panopoly (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 12:11:34

Panoply - If is was just our waste that we are incinerating, I could see your point but Liberty wants to leverage our local money to build a giant facility (10 times the size of what would be needed for our local waste) that will make us the destination for everyone else's waste.

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By rayfullerton (registered) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 12:32:40

Liberty Incinerator is a REGIONAL incinerator which will incinerate the biosolids of 3,745,000 people (ie 29% of the population of Ontario)and biomass. The fuel supply of biosolids and biomass requires 26,000 trucks per year, 71 trucks/day, one truck every 20 minute.

The City incinerator is a MUNICIPAL incinerator which will only incinerate the biosolids of 500,000 people. The biosolids will be transported from the Woodward WWTP to the incinerator using a conveyor belt system. No trucks and no biomass as a fuel.

Attend the May 18, 2011 11:00 am GIC - Liberty meeting to listen to the debate.

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By seriously (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 13:06:41 in reply to Comment 63388

Honey, grab the guns! Someone is trying to get government agencies to work together to save us money while doing a better job! We better nip this idea in the bud before it spreads!

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By Whatever (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 13:47:37

Seriously?! - What government agencies working together? This is a private company that wants public money to finance their operations. I think the city needs to look at the whole deal to see if the damage done to the community is really worth it. We can have all the Economic Summits in the world, but that won't change the perception of this city if we are known as Crapsville. Just ask any graduating Mac student if the prospect of having a massive regional sludge incinerator is making them want to stay in Hamilton more...the whole thing is bloody common sense. Anyone who is trying to justify this is either in for a piece of the action or...

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By seriously (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 15:01:06 in reply to Comment 63392

Well, being a regional facility the thing runs off municipally supplied wastes so that is how it gets gov’t to work together. The savings bit comes from a quick eyeing of the financial review which shows the city of Hamilton building and running their own burner for $302m over 30 years, or paying liberty $200m over 30 years, or partnering with liberty and paying $151m over 30 years. The document says the city’s wastes are about 1/3 rd the capacity of a Liberty gasifier (they have permits for 2). So if we extrapolate these numbers, we can ballpark that this plant could save us taxpayers $453m on the first gasifier and over $906m if they build both! Woh.

You can check my numbers here; http://goo.gl/o5K5a

They already have their permits so the argument here is what Hamiltonians are going to do with our waste. I guess we could spite other municipalities in the area by building our own Hamilton City operated burner and pay $150m more...while other cities are sending theirs to Liberty and paying half the price. Now that is going to be a great Hammer article.

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By WTF? (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 23:41:05 in reply to Comment 63395

Huh? What kind of voodoo math was that?

Are you summing the cost of the different options to get your figures on what the 'savings' would be?

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By Whatever (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 15:12:46 in reply to Comment 63395

I disagree - this isn't just a matter of what we do with our waste and to make it about that misses the broader point. We have a choice to subsidize a massive development that will be detrimental to the image and positive momentum of the city. We can choose not to participate and to ensure that the impact on our city is a little as possible. We are in a very difficult position if we sign on with Liberty and then want to enforce rules against them. This thing screams class-action lawsuit against the company and city if they so this.

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By Smelly (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 13:58:17

Welcome to our future - http://www.thestar.com/news/article/989414--foul-smell-returns-to-toronto?bn=1

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By Tonka (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 15:23:50

I wonder how many of the trucks that will be visiting this facility will be rolling right through the middle of downtown.

Just what our city needs.......more trucks downtown.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 11, 2011 at 16:52:39

Strathearne North is industrial area and is already inhospitable terrain - bringing more jobs to that part of the city is a good idea. Has anybody quantified the impact we're talking about? If it only stinks up AM-Dofasco, I'm really not too bothered (although the employees there might disagree), but if the stench is going to be wafting far south of Burlington Street, then we have a problem.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 12, 2011 at 10:12:02 in reply to Comment 63404

sigh - I love that. Downvote, no reply. Anyhow, does anybody know where along Strathearne this thing will be placed? North or south of Burlington Street? How far the smell of these things usually goes?

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By Copenhagen (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 17:14:40


Funny how you don't mind Hamilton sludge stenching up towns from Cayuga to Niagara. Hamilton trucks sludge out to Niagara where it is stored for months in the open air at PowerGrow, stinking up the neighbourhood for a few months or years. Then the sludge is loaded back on trucks to roll through the county towns heading to farm communities and farm fields. Hamilton's sludge hauler has more than 44 convictions including a fine of $300,000 for sludge violations. Do you care?

Peel Region is the fastest growing community in Canada - and they have the world's largest sewage sludge incinerator. No one is holding their nose about living there. Quite the opposite. YES, it is a regional facility. Sludge is trucked in.

And look at Durham Region. Durham Region incinerates all of York Region's sewage sludge. Regional facility. So get a grip.


Hamilton is a regional center for shopping, for government,for culture, for manufacturing. If you really cared about only looking after your own...you would be doing that now and not storing and spreading your industrially contaminated feces on towns and communities all over Southern Ontario.

You want your sludge to be so local? Bring it on. Demand that Hamilton's open air sewage sludge lagoon site be located in downtown Hamilton. Demand that all Hamilton's sewage sludge get spread within the Hamilton City limits. Get a whiff of that.

You will soon be on the first plane to Copenhagen.

Or on the bus to Peel.


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By Ok (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 19:10:32 in reply to Comment 63405

Ok, for the sake of clear discussion, we know Liberty is proposing a facility that will accommodate 500,000 tonnes/yr

A Hamilton only facility needs to accommodate 50,000 tonnes/yr)

So what is the capacity of the Peel and Durham plants?

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 20:41:49

The key here is standards and enforcement. If the city holds the company to European standards, and holds a fiscal gun to their heads if they deviate from those standards, I have no problem with it. If the enforcement is lacking in any way, then I want everyone involved squeezed in a vice.

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By WTF? (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 23:48:52

As far as I know, Peel Region isn't a city.

Where in Peel Region is the world's largest sewage sludge incinerator? How close is it to neighbourhoods?

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By Peeler (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 08:39:43

In fact the Peel facility is just near the Oakville border, next to many residential areas in both Oakville and Mississauga on the lake.

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By rayfullerton (registered) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 09:47:39

Can not compare the air environment of Peel region to Hamilton, the Hamilton air environment has been identified as a " National hot spot" where the residents of Hamilton are living in a compromised air shed!

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By panoply (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 11:17:06

And contamination on food is a national disgrace, Mr. Fullerton. Aren't you the guy who worked at Dofasco til recently. I'd hardly say the company that has given you your comfortable share of wealth is a pristine business along our waterfront. So now you took from one side of the table and are trying to salve your conscience on the other. Shame.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted May 12, 2011 at 11:26:54

Undustrial's grudge:

Soils need those nutrients.

Yes, I realize this is true and correct but there are more efficient means of remineralizing our soils to perfect without the poisonous side-affect.

Undustrial on burning toxin laden sludge:

toxicity in composted sewage, doesn't this also present problems

Yes again, and we must also consider high sodium content as "toxic" in our green bin composted product. However, the main problem with sewage sludge is IT contains way too many harmful biosolids besides salts which waste-water engineers can't seem to handle properly because their cursory degrees didn't include a bursary in alchemy.

I believe sewage sludge can be rendered inert with proper treatment. Incineration shouldn't even be an option when we have chelation, titration, vibration and hocus-pocus focused filtration imagination.

Unfortunately, scientific waste-water management will not accept magical solutions and so we must expect higher concentrations of air pollution as we recycle old mayors into collusion with this smoke and mirror illusion.

Although I must admit that maybe, Liberty Energy does believe in magic by taking late stock in The Great DiIanni as their wand-waving warlock in the waste-water lobby.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 12, 2011 at 21:13:10 in reply to Comment 63438

This isn't a mineralization issue - it's a nitrogen issue. Nitrogen is the single most important plant nutrient, and is essential for carbon breakdown. The main alternative source is natural gas-based production of fertilizers like ammonium nitrate.

High sodium contents don't really compare with heavy metals in terms of toxicity. Something which our sewage lacks when we flush, but magically acquires before getting to the current biosolids treatment regimen.

Every time you see that beautiful shimmery rainbow on water going down a sewer drain, that's entering the flow and becoming a part of the sewage. Add that up over a whole city, and you'll have a result no single system can treat adequately.

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By rayfullerton (registered) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 12:04:46

@ panoply

Just the facts:

I am not aware that the sludge application to farm land is a national disgrace, please enlighten me with links to articles?

Regarding Industrial K zone: Dofasco is not aesthetically pleasing to the waterfront but is still a large economic provider to the City, also it is difficult to change the 100 year history of steel manufacturing plants located on the land filled bayfront. Unfortunately, the K Industrial Zone of the City already has a compromised air shed and is identified in the Code Red report. K Industrial zone does not need additional stack air emissions such as: hydrogen chloride (tonnes/year), ammonia (tonnes/year), mercury (kg/year), benzo(a)pyrene (g/year), NOx(tonnes/year) and dioxin( g TEG/year) plus the air emissions from 26,000 trucks/year to further degrade the air environment. Stack emissions from the Liberty Incinerator are 10X that of the City incinerator. Time to look to the future and implement the best available current technology to manage sludge! What is your choice?

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By Copenhagen (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2011 at 07:59:57

Putting Hamilton sludge on farmland is a crime.
First ... the company that puts the sludge on farms is a repeat offender. Over 44 convictions for violating Ontario regualations, and over $400,000 in fines!

And some of the toxic metals in Hamilton sludge are going up.

An unbelievable 2.6 tonnes of neurotoxic lead went on Ontario foodlands in 2009, up from 1.5 tonnes in 2002.

And arsenic is way up, too. Hamilton's gift to our food: 425 kilograms of arsenic in 2009. That is up from 58 kilograms on farmfields in 2002.

Hamilton can't just put 22 tonnes of sludge on every hectare of farmland. They can only apply what nutrient the crop requires without exceeding the limits on any of the

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted May 13, 2011 at 14:31:58

Will there be electricity generated from the burning of the sludge? If we are using the heat energy from burning the sludge to support steam turbines driving generators I can support the project. If we are burning with no energy recovery we need to walk away from this.

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By Lapure (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2011 at 15:31:14

Yes, electricity for I think 10,000 homes is part of the deal, I read somewhere. Isn't that so Mr. Fullerbrush?

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2011 at 02:16:05

So aren't any of the militant recyclers here going to suggest that we should only get to flush the toilet every other week? :D

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