Future-focused compost facilities: where design meets efficiency

Author: Dilshad Mondegarian, Margaret Zuckweiler
Finished Product Soil

At a glance

A look into what factors should be considered when designing a compost plant to avoid risks that could impact permit compliance or the facility's long term operability.

Selecting an organic waste treatment technology is an exciting milestone. There are grand aspirations for new compost plants that will help manage organic wastes, while simultaneously producing quality compost. But now, what factors should be considered when designing the compost plant? When it comes to compost facilities, there are key design factors that will ensure the technology is seamlessly integrated with the facility. These elements can include electrical supply, mechanical equipment, water management (e.g., stormwater, leachate, and process water), utilities, civil infrastructure, and various other environmental considerations. Addressing these aspects in the design will set one up for a successful compost plant. What’s more, a modern facility can sometimes integrate technology solutions from multiple vendors, which requires a detailed focus on the integration of process controls. If these essential elements are not considered when engineering the balance of plant, there are risks that could impact permit compliance or even the facility’s long-term operability. Luckily through experienced engineering, these risks can most often be avoided.

Selecting an organic waste treatment technology is an exciting milestone. There are grand aspirations for new compost plants that will help manage organic wastes, while simultaneously producing quality compost. But now, what factors should be considered when designing the compost plant?

When it comes to compost facilities, there are key design factors that will ensure the technology is seamlessly integrated with the facility. These elements can include electrical supply, mechanical equipment, water management (e.g., stormwater, leachate, and process water), utilities, civil infrastructure, and various other environmental considerations. Addressing these aspects in the design will set one up for a successful compost plant. What’s more, a modern facility can sometimes integrate technology solutions from multiple vendors, which requires a detailed focus on the integration of process controls. If these essential elements are not considered when engineering the balance of plant, there are risks that could impact permit compliance or even the facility’s long-term operability. Luckily through experienced engineering, these risks can most often be avoided. 

Starting with siting 

It’s important to make sure that space is optimized for operations, considers the local zoning requirements, and optimizes the layout, especially when working in sites that are properly suited for composting where space may be constrained.  Being a good neighbor requires an operating strategy that allows for environmental management techniques that are appropriate for the local context and setting. From odor management plans, to pre-processing of source-separated organic waste, to accurate tracking and recording of actual site quantities, the operating environment remains in flux. Increasingly, outdoor operations need to be designed with resiliency in mind, considering frequent and intense storm events that may negatively impact production for a short period of time or, worse, create unsafe operating conditions and lost production. The ability to effectively model these scenarios is not only based on regulatory requirements but is increasingly considerate of climate acts and local policies. Effective facility operations start with the right location, with siting methodology being key to starting off a compost project right.

 

Sizing for efficient operations 

Sizing is a big component of the project even before the design takes place. If composting facilities are overly designed and made too big, it can cause operational inefficiencies, and when they don’t have the estimated tonnage of feedstock to support the operation, there could be lost revenue for the plant in terms of cost recovery from a tipping fee, or the revenue from the sale of high-quality finished compost. Conducting the appropriate feedstock studies and generation estimates will help to make sure the infrastructure is sized adequately to support organic waste management in the community.

Designing for the future

Making sure the plant is designed with the potential to expand in the future is essential to mitigating future costs. Great designs should include the possibility for expansion and upgrading technologies and help avoid additional costs on troubleshooting and upgrades. When applying for permits, it can be worthwhile to include the tonnage of the designed expansion from the start to reduce future permitting requirements.

Communicating with residents and stakeholders

Working with technology providers is important for integrating technology into the facility to ensure it operates in the intended way. Environmentally conscious communities are looking to move away from relying on landfills, and compost facilities help achieve this. Communicating with the community and stakeholders sets a project up for success.

Multi-disciplinary designs

GHD provides a full spectrum of design and environmental services ranging from preliminary business case analysis, evaluation of technology alternatives, conceptual design and planning, permitting, public consultation, final design, construction, and operations support services during the life of the facility.

We have experience building a project team that involves partnering with municipalities, operators, and technology providers to prioritize the end user’s needs and strategic vision, align the design basis with the local permit requirements, and balance CAPEX and OPEX decisions in full view of appropriate budget constraints. The multidisciplinary nature of designing a composting facility from the ground up or retrofitting to an existing site often requires a team that understands the design integration process, key risks, and safety aspects of these facilities.

Composting today, benefits for tomorrow 

There is a growing momentum towards well-thought-out facility development for composting facilities.  Diverting organics to composting facilities is a proven way to reduce landfill disposal while creating a product with a beneficial use to nearby communities. It also has been shown to increase recycling efforts for those communities, helping them work towards their overall waste diversion targets. A well-mapped-out size and design ensures environmental issues are controlled and sets the basis for efficiently running facilities with the potential expansion of new and existing structures.

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