Raising a Stink
Whether it’s aerobic composting or anaerobic digestion of source separated organics, the number one issue that faces any large-scale operation is odour. It is unavoidable. Based on my quick survey of SSO operations across the country, there isn’t one that can claim that it hasn’t had at least one odour complaint.
The Cost of the Problem
More than one SSO operations manager has told me that the key to odour management starts before the facility is even built. A complaint free facility is one located far away from any residence. Co-locating at a landfill or in an industrial park with other potential odour-causing industries is a good secondary choice.
The plant layout and design is the other key issue to success odour management. One odour causing source at a facility that has been overlooked in the past has been incoming trucks. The facility itself has managed the odours but the queue of trucks waiting to enter facility creates a line source of odour.
Once a neighbour has the local bylaw officer or provincial environment ministry on speed dial, every malodours whiff they smell is sure to be registered as a complaint. The cost of to fix the problem could be insurmountable, especially if neighbours also live adjacent to the incoming truck route.
At least one Ontario-based composting operation made the tough decision to abandon its million dollar investment rather than invest further in odour control solutions that would likely not appease neighbours. The company found that the majority of the complaints stemmed from the odours emitted from incoming trucks, and not the facility itself.
Doing it Right
One Canadian organic process facility that has made considerable investment to in odour issues is StormFisher, located in London, Ontario. The anaerobic facility takes in 100,000 of organic waste per year and anaerobic digests it, resulting in 2.85 MW of renewable energy being generated along with organic-based fertilizer. The facility was built in 2008 at a cost of $15 million.
A major upfront investment made by StormFisher to control odours was the facilities receiving area. It is located indoors and operates under negative pressure so that odours can’t escape. The air from the receiving area is subsequently treated to remove any odours.
StormFisher also recognized that it is difficult to control what can’t be accurately measured. It invested in the world’s most advanced real-time odour measurement platform for its facility – OdoWatch from Quebec-based Odotech.
The key to an OdoWatch platform is the electronic nose that was developed at the University of Montreal in the 1990s. It contains an array of 16 metal-oxide-semiconductor sensors optimized for the odours of the site. An e-nose samples the air at an odour source at a facility 24 hours a day. The data collected from the e-nose is transmitted to the Central Control Unit where proprietary software merges it with the meteorological data to model the atmospheric dispersion of odours. The end result is continuous monitoring the odours from a specific facility and real-time visual images of the odour plume from the facility.
Most organics facility operators are hesitant to purchase an OdoWatch System mainly due the initial cost of a full-scale platform that includes electronic noses and continuous monitoring platform with weather station and emissions modelling. However, operators with a commitment to odour control and the understanding that accurate, real-time measurement of odour is both possible and useful, quickly realize an OdoWatch Platform is worth the investment.
Besides StormFisher, Odotech also has an OdoWatch Platform system installed at Complexe environmental St-Michel compost facility in Montreal. The complex includes the public park, a recyclable materials recovery facility, a biogas power plant, a composting site, and a landfill. The St-Michel OdoWatch system is set up so that the site operator will receive an alert on his smartphone when specific odour thresholds have reached the community. This allows the operator to take immediate action to identify the source of the odour at the facility and take mitigative actions.