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Liberty Paper Unshackes a Gigantic Paper Mill from Fossil Fuels

| Tuesday March 27th, 2012 | 0 Comments

Liberty Paper will recover biogas from paper mill wastewaterMinnesota based Liberty Paper has made a big name for itself in paper recycling and other sustainability issues, and now it is about to plunge into wastewater biogas recovery – in a big way. Next month, the Liberty Paper’s enormous paper mill in Becker is breaking ground on a pre-treatment facility that will reclaim methane from the plant’s wastewater, and use it to generate enough power to help run the facility.

That’s a slam dunk sustainability threefer – Becker gets some relief for its wastewater treatment facilities while Liberty Paper gets a reliable source of energy that is insulated from market price spikes, and it gets a marketing hook for its signature recycled paper packaging products. Liberty Paper also joins a growing number of companies (including Google) that are re-imagining wastewater as an asset that can benefit the bottom line, rather than a nuisance to dispose of.

Fracking-free natural gas

Biogas recovery is actually becoming commonplace at municipal wastewater treatment plants, and at food processing operations such as brewing and cheese making. The Obama Administration has also put its muscle behind biogas recovery at dairy farms and other livestock operations through its AgStar program.  However, biogas recovery at industrial facilities is still fairly rare. In a recent article in the Minnesota Star-Tribune by Paul Levy, the plant is described as “a first for Minnesota.”

Big paper mill, big wastewater

The Liberty Paper mill was built in 1995 to recycle corrugated cardboard containers into packaging products. Since then it has become one of the region’s top employers, but it also has an impact on the local wastewater treatment infrastructure. The facility currently recycles about 250,000 tons of containers per year and it uses about 550 thousand gallons of water each day to get that done.

A big biogas solution

The new pretreatment plant will take all 550,000 gallons of wastewater and subject it to a natural process called anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion is a natural process in which bacteria that thrive in an oxygen-free environment (that’s the “anaerobic” part) feed on the organic materials in the wastewater. Just as with the human digestive system, one byproduct of the process is gas, which contains a significant amount of methane.

All hands on deck for wastewater biogas recovery

The new pre-treatment plant is another example of how private and community resources can pull together for infrastructure upgrades that create a more sustainable local economy.  Liberty Paper and its parent Liberty Diversified International were certainly not alone in the endeavor.  According to Levy, other partners include the St. Paul Port Authority, Xcel Energy, the County of Sherburne, the City of Becker and a local economic development organization called Initiative Foundation.

New meaning for an old symbol

The Liberty Paper logo is, naturally enough, a depiction of a torch, similar to the the one grasped by the Statue of Liberty. Once the paper mill’s new biogas recovery system goes on line, that iconic “flame of liberty” will gain a whole new level of meaning in our sustainable future.

Image: Courtesy of Liberty Paper.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


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