Sunday, April 20, 2008

City management meets future fuels

Western Michigan University is developing two biofuel production programs that, frankly, seem like every city manager's dream.

One project involves capturing fryer grease that's been dumped into the sewer (which clogs and eventually ruins sewer collection lines) as well as recycling used restaurant grease into biofuel, which Kalamazoo will use to power its bus fleet.

The other involves using algae for wastewater treatment, taking the resultant algae oil and using it to produce ethanol or biodiesel.

City managers (or alternatively, mayors or city councils) strive to make the city's systems flow as effortlessly as possible, both from a financial standpoint and from an operational one. If either of these projects prove feasible, cities can make a portion of their fleets self-sustaining and do so in a way that solves other problems -- like making wastewater treatment cheaper once infrastructure is in place or saving on sewer maintenance from grease clogs.

Both of these processes are theoretical, but policymakers need to see research into algae or wastewater management not as ends unto themselves, not strictly as about energy, but as with many things, pieces of the larger picture.

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