Automating the Aerated Static Pile
WebMACS aeration control system allows start-up composter to communicate with facility using smart phone
Jeff West comes from a waste industry background. He spent multiple years managing companies for large waste hauling firms, including Allied Waste (now Republic Services ) and Waste Management, Inc. In 2007, West and daughter Stephanie founded their own recycling company called New Day Recycling, a commercial waste recycling specialist that collects and processes mainly commercial single-stream mixed waste such as cardboard. The company, based in Kingston, Washington, in the Puget Sound region, also collects and hauls both pre- and postconsumer organic waste.
“We were for years a customer of a locally-owned company called Emu Composting Topsoil,” explains West. “We hauled in food waste and other organics to them. When Emu ceased operations due to financial difficulties, West says it left them without a place to take their organic materials. “That started us down the path to acquiring most of the assets from Emu, including their former facility.”
The result of this recent company growth is Olympic Organics LLC, which now operates an aerated static pile (ASP) composting facility capable of processing up to 20,000 tons per year of food and yard waste. The entire composting operation is built on eight acres and uses five bays (more are being considered), each bay being 35 feet wide and 55 feet long and handling 600 cubic yards of mixed green and food waste. Olympic Organics runs its own truck and operations yard, but shares office space with New Day Recycling.
Prior to compost operations starting in the spring of 2014, West was in need of an automatic aeration control system that would manage blowers and record temperatures, while allowing off-site access to data and controls. The goal was to automate the system, in part, so an operator would not have to go to the site on weekends to record data.
Out with the old, in with automated aeration control
In April of this year, Green Mountain Technologies, also based out of Washington State, completed installation of a fivezone WebMACS controller for Olympic Organics. The WebMACS system replaces the old cycle timers and connects directly to the existing motor contactors to start and stop blowers. Access is through an operator’s smart phone, from the loader or anywhere on- or off-site, and the system sends out email and text alarms when temperatures are too high or too low.
“We have developed a low-cost aeration control system that will allow you to use any device with Internet access to communicate with your composting facility,” explains Michael Bryan-Brown, Green Mountain Technologies. “We configure a custom, secure web page forevery customer, allowing them to see the temperatures, change settings and control blowers from anywhere.”
West says during this year’s primary season (spring through summer) they processed approximately 700 yards per week, mainly greenwaste, horse manure and food waste collected from local residents and businesses. This resulted in approximately 500 yards of high-quality, STA-certified compost per week, which has been well received by the local market.
“When we acquired the facility from Emu, it was already an aerated static pile,” explains West. “It had about 10 different bays of material and was fully permitted for greenwaste through biosolids. It had also already processed a fair amount of biosolids.
“We came on site and had a bunch of remaining material that needed to be processed and then marketed. We started out by cleaning the facility up, and then we ended up reconfiguring the material flow through the facility.
“Previously, they had used a manual fan control system and did daily temperature checks with ReoTemp probes. This worked OK, but it didn’t afford the daily automated logging we wanted, nor did it provide a robust fan control system, for fire control and temperature monitoring. It was just labour intensive.”
Fires have not been a common occurrence in West’s experience, but he says they have happened. “It is something you pay attention to. Part of a good operations plan is to make sure you account for that possibility.”
“We wanted to automate for a variety of reasons. Formerly, the system they were using required manual record keeping which can be problematic when you are busy. And so we wanted to improve this aspect overall. That brought us to looking at the automated systems on the market and that’s how we ended up with the WebMACS system.”
According to Green Mountain, the cost of the control system was less than $10,000 and installation and training took less than two days. West says they can now download and print off reports for regulators, track temperatures and double-check their recipes hourly.
“We can monitor our compost based on a variety of configurations,” explains West. “We know what we have going on with the system, and what we have going on in our piles. It just gives us a lot better control, a lot better record keeping and saves us money in labour.”
West says the WebMACS System has saved one to two hours of record keeping per day as well as weekend overtime, and estimates that payback for the system will be less than a year.
“It’s almost like having a new employee, dedicated to monitoring the bays and controlling the fans and doing the record keeping,” he says.
According to Bryan-Brown, a wide range of WebMACS models are available with the ability to suit small or large facilities. He says their system has proven reliable and cost-effective for communities as small as Gustavus, Alaska and as large as Portland, Oregon.
“Green Mountain did a great job in supplying our automation system,” says West. “They are a local company, and they worked closely with us on the installation, and assisted in tweaking the system to make sure it was working as expected. It was a significant engineering challenge for their part, because they had to interface with the existing motor controllers. They were able to do that quickly and achieved all of our objectives.”