Wastewater treatment processes have a lot in common with human digestion, according to Tyler Masick.
“We use anaerobic digestion to break down solids in the water,” he said. “It’s basically like a stomach.”
Masick is lead engineer at the Gloversville-Johnstown Wastewater Treatment Plant. Every time someone takes a shower or flushes a toilet in either of the Glove Cities, that water goes to Masick’s plant. The nastier stuff from homes or industrial producers goes into 300,000 gallon tanks, where, just like in a stomach, microorganisms break down contaminants into sludge and biogas.
It’s a pretty good system, with one downfall: Just as a person can only eat so much, Masik’s digestion tanks have a limit — a limit about to be eclipsed by the wastewater needs of Fage Dairy.
Fage is in the process of a $150 million expansion to their Johnstown yogurt factory. Greater yogurt production, Masick said, will triple their wastewater output from 300,000 to nearly 1 million gallons a day of wash water alone.
Last year, Masick filed a consolidated funding application and was approved for a $1 million grant to help fund a massive expansion to the wastewater plant. Late last week, the Empire State Development Board approved the treatment plant’s expansion plan, a milestone in the funding process.
“Getting the money is a multistaged process,” said Empire State Development spokesman Jason Conwall, “With plan approval, the project can move forward.”
By the end of next year, Masick said two more stainless steel 300,000 gallon tanks will adorn the wastewater plant, along with new pipes to move the waste and a biogas generator.
As it turns out, electricity will be a by-product of the Greek yogurt industry. A low-grade version of natural gas is produced when the acid whey left over from yogurt is digested in wastewater tanks. That gas is currently enough to run two generators, creating 95 percent of the treatment plant’s power.
With Fage’s increased production, Masick said there will be plenty of gas to run a third.
“We’re hoping to export energy for a profit,” he said.
Some extra income would come at a much-needed time. In all, the upgrades will cost more than $7 million, most of which is bonded by the city of Johnstown.
“We’ll have to pay them back,” he said.
The $1 million in Empire State Development funding is just a small fraction of the project cost. Even so, Conwall said it is a pivotal fraction.
“The treatment plant couldn’t have done it without us,” he said. “And Fage couldn’t have expanded without a larger water treatment plant.”
For it’s $1 million, Conwall said the state economy will see an extra 150 jobs at Fage, more than $6 million in local investment and a more solid infrastructure.
Masick hopes to have the project complete at the same time Fage finishes its expansion.