Who knew three decades ago that Paul Tower was pursuing a glamour profession?
On April 23, Tower will receive the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s very first Alumni Earth Caretaker Award. As President and CEO of Applied Filter Technology (AFT), in Snohomish, Wash., a firm that helps to make biogas energy from green wastes such as lumber byproducts and landscaping trimmings, Tower is a pioneer in the area of Green Innovations.
“This honor is very cool and hopefully will stimulate a lot of people to keep going for the gold,” Tower said. “It comes from looking at environmental quality not as a drag to the economy but something that adds to our quality of life. For many businesses it requires a complete change in paradigm.”
Tower’s firm is also working with City Brewing of La Crosse, Wis., on a project that involves cleaning up methane from the brewery’s green wastes to make heat and electricity for the nearby Gunderson Lutheran Hospital. At the same time, some of that “waste” is being converted into farm fertilizer. Another project, for the city of Madison, Wis., and its waste water treatment plant, processes waste produced by a methane digester to produce electricity and heat for plant operations.
With more than 167 active projects in the United States and foreign counties, AFT filters low-quality methane gas into a form that is useable for generating power, heat and electricity. The projects can range in scope from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars.
A native of the San Francisco area, Tower received his master’s degree in Environmental Arts and Sciences from UW-Green Bay in 1978. “I had been in Europe, and when I returned to the San Francisco Bay area, I was looking at schools,” he said explaining how he found himself doing graduate work at UW-Green Bay. “Most seemed to want to put me into civil engineering. UW-Green Bay was the only one that had a holistic approach and would give me the educational foundation that I wanted.
“That was what I wanted — the ability to think and read and take an inquisitive attitude,” Tower said. “Having that forum I think is still unusual and I think that’s where the University needs to wave its flag. It was an absolutely exceptional faculty.”
Over a period of years, the foundation laid at UW-Green Bay served as a valuable starting point for a career in environmental and process engineering. Tower used this to specialize in filtration technologies as his career choice. The result is now Applied Filter Technology, Inc. The company’s website describes how it designs, builds, and operates waste gas recovery processes for use in energy production.
The problem of utilizing organic wastes in this manner is the creation of greenhouse gas emissions. Of these emissions, methane gas is the worst for the environment. Tower saw an opportunity to apply technology to the problem, which allowed for the methane to be harvested, and then cleaned, for use in engines, turbines, fuel cells, and as a natural gas or vehicle fuel without high operation or environmental costs. Further, use of the company’s technologies has taken out significant quantities of greenhouse gas methane emissions from wastewater plants, landfills, as well as dairy, pig and chicken farms, food processing plants, industrial processing facilities and manufacturing firms.
Tower says Applied Filter Technology believes the future will include the use of biogas from wastes and other feedstock as a matter of both domestic and international energy policy.
“For our energy security and overall reduction of greenhouse emissions, use of biogas makes sense. Our entire country now views biogas as an opportunity versus a problem,” he said. “Its use is one small effort at reducing our dependency on foreign produced fuels.”
Throughout its history UW-Green Bay has cultivated a national reputation as a leader in environmental studies and management.
The Earth Caretaker Award goes to an alumnus with a distinguished professional record, who is highly regarded for accomplishments in the areas of sustainability, environmental management, environmental policy or other closely related areas. The recipient’s record of achievement must cover an extended period of time, demonstrating continuity of performance and maturity.
Nominees need to hold an undergraduate or graduate degree from UW-Green Bay, and at least 10 years of experience beyond the University.
“This award draws back on our history as an institution and in many ways is probably overdue, because we have people like Paul who have been doing something special for a long time,” said UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. John Katers.
Katers added that UW-Green Bay’s reputation for multi-disciplinary studies has allowed graduates such as Tower to nurture their creative spark.
“Paul is a leader in an emerging field – whether it’s creating energy from landfill gas, farm digesters or other materials once thought of as waste,” said Katers. “What he’s dealing with now is going to be front and center in the future.”
“To win this award is quite an honor, which I never expected,” Tower said. “It means having a platform to promote what the University is doing.”