MUSCATINE, Iowa–Though the Muscatine Organics Recycling Center, or MORC, officially opened in Jan. 2020, the original concept and planning on it stretches back an entire decade. In 2011, Water and Resource Recovery Facility Director John Koch sought a way to use the methane gas produced by rotting organic material as a source of usable natural gas rather than a waste product to flare off. He wanted to design a system that took food waste that would otherwise go to a landfill and use it to create natural gas the city could use to power certain vehicles or sell.
To learn more about other cities and private companies turning waste into natural gas, Koch visited several sites and observed the processes they used. He also reached out to Stanley Consultants and started working with them to determine what the City of Muscatine could feasibly do and what kind of facilities they would need to make it happen.
After extensive research, Koch found that expired prepackaged foods take up the most space in landfills. However, the majority of organics recycling operations focus exclusively on converting liquids into natural gas. Koch wanted to take an approach rarely seen–he wanted to have the MORC both de-package food and convert it into natural gas.
Excited by these prospects, Stanley Consultants willingly took on this difficult challenge. As Stanley Consultants’ Jay Brady put it, “how do you engineer something that hasn’t been done before?”
Through many different design phases and by learning about the few de-packaging machines that already existed, Brady and Koch developed an effective system that now operates at the MORC today. Currently, the MORC de-packages an average of 30 to 50 tons of food daily, mostly from large companies such as West Liberty Foods, and Koch hopes to eventually reach a maximum capacity of 90-100 tons daily. To accommodate for this higher volume of organic material, Koch plans to add additional digesters to process it and to use the gas generated to either inject into existing natural gas pipelines or convert to electricity.
In recognition of the success of the MORC and its innovative design, Stanley Consultants received both the American Council of Engineering Companies’ Water and Wastewater and Grand Conceptor Awards for 2020. Brady felt equally delighted and awed to receive such recognition. “It’s nice to be recognized by your peers,” he said. “It’s humbling because there are a lot of great engineers across the state.”