Grand Rapids plans biodigester to handle commercial waste

Grand Rapids, wastewater treatment plant
The Grand Rapids wastewater treatment plant. (Feb. 2, 2016)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The City of Grand Rapids is planning to build a biodigester at the city water plant, which it says will cut energy costs and encourage business growth.

“If you haven’t noticed, Grand Rapids is growing,” said Mike Lunn of Grand Rapids Environmental Services.

Big companies like Founders Brewing Co., Coca-Cola and Amway contribute a lot to the city, but they also create a lot of waste. The city says a biodigester, which will break down all that waste, is the best way to deal with the problem.

The plan is to install three tanks at the city water plant to handle up to 1.4 million gallons of waste, including sludge from toilets and industrial waste from business production.

That waste will be transformed into energy. Lunn said the biodigester will produce 1.6 megawatts of power per day, which is enough to supply about 1,600 houses or half the water treatment plant.

“The way it’s laid out, the rates won’t increase because of this project,” Lunn said.

He said it should reduce the city’s cost of electricity by between $4,000 and $5,000 a year, as well as reduce the amount of solid waste from around 5.2 million gallons to under 4 million.

The total cost for the project is estimated at around $30 million. It may sound like a lot, but the city says it’s cheaper than the other option, which to spend $90 million to expand to another part of the plant.

A third option would be to have businesses deal with the treatment, but that could drive them out of town.

“It’s a win for the region because we’ll be able to keep growing,” Lunn said. “It will take more food producers in and we’ll be able to handle our growing economy.”

The plan also includes installing a pipe from the treatment plant to Founders.

The project is expected to be finished in 2018.


After a biodigester opened in Lowell, residents complained for months about a foul stench, which they described as a cross between raw sewage and roadkill. The smell got so bad the city ordered the plant to shut down.

There are a host of homes that overlook the Grand Rapids water treatment plant, located along Market Avenue SW. Neighbors in the Black Hills neighborhood, like Myichelle Maze, say there isn’t any stink right now, and they don’t want that to change.

A map showing where the Grand Rapids biodigester will be built and a nearby neighborhood.
A map showing where the Grand Rapids biodigester will be built and a nearby neighborhood.

The city promises there won’t be a problem.

“I can guarantee this biodigester will not smell like it does in Lowell,” Lunn said.

He said there is a plan in place to keep the stench in the tanks.

“Awesome,” Maze said. “That’s good.”

Lunn says there will be odor control including carbon filters, which he said the Lowell biodigester was built without.

“What happened in Lowell is atypical. It’s the one in a thousand,” Lunn said.

The city says if there is a problem with smell, it will take additional steps to stop it. Grandville has had a smell-free biodigester for years.