Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Ongoing Tower Work Impacting KUNI 90.9 FM

Ames Power Plant To Resume Waste-To-Energy Production Soon

courtesy City of Ames
Scaffolding inside the Ames power plant ran up the 7 stories of the building as new tubes were installed.

Usually the city of Ames generates between 40 and 45 percent of its electricity from what’s called “refused derived fuel.” Or, more simply, it generates power from trash.

But that system has been largely off line in recent weeks as upgrades to the boiler have been delayed. Garbage is being diverted to the Boone County Landfill (Story County doesn’t have one), but the waste-to-energy process is slated to be back to normal next week.

Don Kom, director of electric services for Ames, says trash has changed during the 40-plus years the system has been in use.

“Garbage has changed so much over the years that there are more plastics and by burning plastics it creates a … it’s a different type of fuel,” Kom said. “It actually has more BTU content, but it burns differently in the power plant.”

For that reason, the new tubes that are being installed have a laser-applied nickel-chromium alloy coating, which will give them a longer lifespan. But Kom says each step in the process took a little longer than anticipated.

Originally, Kom says the expectation was that a second boiler would continue to produce energy while the first one underwent the upgrades. But the second one developed similar tube problems and had to be shut down. (It will get the upgrades in 2020.)

The upgraded unit passed several tests this week and Kom says things are now on track for resuming waste-to-energy production soon.

“By the 23rd (of December) we should have it online, tied into the grid, and then we’ll start introducing refuse-derived fuel into the fuel mix,” he said.

Kom says Ames was an early-adopter of the technology and is the only Iowa city producing electricity from garbage. But other plants do the same in Minnesota, Florida and other places. 

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames