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The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh has received approval from the Oshkosh Common Council to build the first dry fermentation anaerobic biodigesters in the nation, which will convert yard and food waste into fuel. The project will be partially funded with a grant of $232,587 from Wisconsin Focus on Energy and a $500,000 grant from the federal government.

The renewable energy facility will include heat and power generators, which will produce up to 5 percent of the campus’s electricity and heating needs. The biodigester needs 6,000 tons of organic biowaste per year to provide 400 kilowatt output. The majority of the waste will be provided by campus and community sources with the remainder being supplied from other area partners. The plant will be located on Dempsey Trail, adjacent to the Witzel Avenue Campus Service Center, with construction beginning late this spring.

“A dry fermentation anaerobic digester is very different in design from the wet digesters that run on manure or sewage,” said Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Tom Sonnleitner. “The process is essentially to move composting indoors. The facility will have air filters to remove any adverse smells, and the plant will be located in the part of the city that currently is home to the municipal sewage treatment plant and the city composting site. Our goal is to provide a living laboratory of renewable energy infrastructure for our students, faculty, staff and community.”

The project is a collaborative effort with the UW Oshkosh Foundation, which has purchased the land.

“The UW Oshkosh Foundation is pleased to partner with the University to advance these kinds of projects,” said Arthur H. Rathjen, president of the Foundation. “Sustainability is core to the University’s mission, so we are more than happy to provide support.”

UW Oshkosh is working with BIOFerm Energy Systems, a subsidiary of Viessmann Corporation of Allendorf, Germany, where this technology is in full operation at many sites. Additional funding is being sought from investors interested in new tax incentives for green energy projects.

“A biodigester will let us use a large, untapped and local source of renewable energy,” said Director of Sustainability Mike Lizotte.

Because a dry digester can use waste from food, agriculture and yards, the fuel is currently available for the cost of shipping. And unlike the wet digesters used for manure, the plant will not produce wastewater that needs to be treated or disposed.

“Constructing such a facility on our campus takes us another step closer to energy independence,” Lizotte said.

In addition to the action of the Common Council on Tuesday, Feb. 23, the Oshkosh Plan Commission approved plans for the biodigester Feb. 16.