Brazilian firm Ergostech plans to reclaim Lindsay Olive Growers brine ponds to clean up the groundwater, improve air quality and bring high-paying jobs
By Reggie Ellis
LINDSAY – A new project is being proposed in the city of Lindsay to convert a contaminated and polluting plot of land into a renewable source of fuel.
Ergostech, a renewable energy company, plans to develop a hydrogen production facility near the city’s waste water treatment facility that will convert sewer waste into bio-hydrogen. Hydrogen is an important component for many industries for uses including making vegetable oil, ammonia, rocket fuel, welding fuel, inflating weather balloons for scientific research, cryogenics and fuel. The hydrogen produced in Lindsay will primarily be used to power farm equipment, backup generators, heavy duty trucks, forklifts and passenger vehicles.
Mike Camarena, interim city manager and public works director for the city of Lindsay, said the project is predicated on funding and could cost upwards of $15 million.
The Brazilian company was founded in 2004 and began working on waste-to-energy solutions. In 2017, Ergostech began scaling its biohydrogen production from concept to commercial application. In 2018, Ergostech selected California for its first U.S. office due to the state being a global leader in environmentally conscious development.
It was fitting that the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved the environmental aspects of the project on Feb. 11, the opening day of the World Ag Exp which has become a highlight for environmentally sustainable projects in agriculture.
Supervisor Kuyler Crocker, who represents Lindsay on the board, said he was excited about a project coming to his area on the same day that Western Milling announced their biogas project to fuel their fleet with renewable natural gas at the company’s Goshen plant.
“I’m happy to support this,” Crocker said. “It’s important to maximize resources we have and make sure we provide additional value. These two things are just another step forward.”
The project is a huge win for the city of Lindsay as it will reclaim unusable land, prevent further contamination of the groundwater, reduce the city’s carbon dioxide emissions and create 20 new jobs.
The most important aspect of the project may be finally closing a devastating chapter in the city’s history. The project will be built on the former site of one of the Lindsay Olive Growers (LOG) brine ponds, where the salty discharge from the brining process at the olive plant was held until the liquid evaporated and the solids could then be removed. The city handled LOG’s effluence from the 1960s until it ceased operations in the 1992 due to a court order to clean up its brine ponds, one northwest of town and the other just north of town. The Lindsay Olive brand was sold to Bell Carter, now known as Bell Carter Foods, the largest table olive producer in the U.S. and the second largest in the world. In 1991, five local farmers sued the city claiming that lining of the ponds leaked the byproduct from the brining process into the groundwater damaging their water and crippling crop yield. The city contended the ponds were sealed when the city created a new pond in 1984 that was approved by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board).
The six-week trial ended on May 17, 1991 and the jury found the city negligent in its operations of the 200-acre brine ponds northwest of town. The verdict cost the city $2.5 million yet absolved LOG from any wrongdoing. The city was named in five more lawsuits over the brine ponds before legal action came to an end in 2002. The west pond was sold to Hilarides Dairy, northwest of Cairns Corner at the intersection of Highway 65 and 137. The dairy closed down the ponds and eliminated further contamination.
“The improvements that will be implemented involves an area cover plan that would protect against further contamination of groundwater,” Ergostech stated in its project description.
Camarena said the hydrogen facility will be built on a 100-acre property north of the city and will share that parcel with the city’s waste water treatment facility.
Ergostech said the agreement with the city could free up costs to help payoff the city’s debts, position the city to apply for grants to upgrade its waste water treatment plant, increase the city’s waste capacity at its current waste water treatment plant and reduce the energy cost to operate the plant.
“If all goes according to plan, all of our waste water will be routed to this facility,” Camarena said. “Our waste water treatment plant will then handle the overflow.”
The biohydrogen plant will reduce the city’s carbon dioxide emissions by 87 million tons during the life of the project, the equivalent to every resident in Lindsay driving 1,300 fewer miles in their car. The facility will convert 9,000 cubic meters of sewage, 2,800 cubic meters of dairy manure and 2,000 cubic meters of effluence from citrus processing into 3,800 tons of hydrogen per day.
The waste will enter the facility where it will be mixed in a tank and then sent through centrifugal pumps where bacteria will separate the waste into organic acids and biohydrogen. The gas is then cooled and pressurized extracting carbon dioxide and leaving 99.99% hydrogen. Once the hydrogen is compressed, it will be loaded into 13 tankers per day and then delivered to buyers.
The remaining liquid will be reused as fertilizer for local farms and recycled water in the facility’s steam reactor. The solid waste will be sent to a landfill. Ergostech is also planning on implementing a range of processes to control odor, litter and noise.
The project will create more than 20 new, highly skilled, full-time jobs within the first five years. Employees will work around the clock in two shifts on every day of the year. The company has already begun working on recruiting a workforce by requesting collaboration between several entities, such as College of Sequoias and the Workforce Investment Board of Tulare County.
Construction on the project is set to begin in January 2021 with equipment installation beginning in March 2021. The project will need a variety of permits from the Water Board and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The plant is slated to open in early 2022 and ramp up to full operation by the end of 2023.