Tower spreads the biogas message

Paul Tower, the inaugural recipient of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s very first Alumni Earth Caretaker Award, told a campus audience on Earth Day 2010 that America is making strides in achieving the efficiencies possible in renewable energy.

Tower is 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. He delivered a slide-illustrated talk in the Christie Theatre on the topic of “The Future of Energy and Reducation in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

Tower’s firm is 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.

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.