Mormon church partners with local agencies on biofuel project

Published: Tuesday, March 16 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Julie Peck-Dabling and Dallas Hanks stand Monday in the middle of a field where a biofuel feedstock pilot project will take place in Salt Lake City.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The 200-acre chunk of land southwest of the airport is barren save for wisps of grass and dried-out thistle. And due to recent snow, it's boggy, too.

But give it some attention, and around July it will burst with bright oranges, yellows and reds as soon-to-be-planted safflower blooms. Soon after, the plants' seeds will become fuel to power local government fleets hungry for homegrown biodiesel.

Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City Public Utilities, the South Davis Sewer District, Utah State University and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all are lending a hand for a pilot project to showcase the use of this publicly owned land to grow the feedstock for biodiesel fuel.

And it's a recycling project, as well. Biosolids generated by the wastewater treatment process will be spread over the land to fertilize the drought-tolerant safflower.

On this dry farm, future fuels start with seeds and biosolids, followed by benign neglect until the safflower has grown, said Dallas Hanks, USU researcher and director of the FreeWays to Fuel National Alliance, during a news conference Monday to introduce the project.

The plan is to start small, on just 20 of the 200 acres, and with success, expand. Each acre is expected to yield about 50 gallons of biodiesel. Poured in the city's and county's vehicles, it should reduce how much is spent on imported diesel fuel and improve the sustainability and carbon footprint of the area, the officials said. And all that biosolid waste won't end up in landfills, either.

Salt Lake City owns the land, while USU brings expertise to the undertaking. The processed biosolids are from Salt Lake's public wastewater treatment facility. South Davis Sewer District is lending its "slinger" to distribute the biosolid waste. The vehicle's title aptly describes how it works, lumbering like a giant mower that slings waste from its side.

The LDS Church will provide equipment and labor for both the planting and harvesting of the safflower.

Salt Lake County Councilman Jim Bradley has led the county's new Urban Farming Initiative, and he introduced the biodiesel plan as a way to show "idle land put to beneficial use on behalf of the public."

Salt Lake County will be a likely beneficiary of the end biofuel product, said county Mayor Peter Corroon. "If this project is successful, it has the potential to recycle waste from sewage and produce fuel for our county fleet through urban farming,"

According to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, the land originally was purchased as the site of a future sewage treatment plant. That's still 15 years in the future, and using the land now to make biofuel feeds into the city's emphasis on "returning as much as possible of the ground to agriculture" and on benefits to the public.

Vacant properties throughout the city are being put to reuse to grow things, he noted.

e-mail: lois@desnews.com

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