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Dedication ceremony: The Wewoka Biogas Project

It was exciting. It was inspiring. It was hosted on a landfill.

The Wewoka Biogas Project dedication ceremony, which took place on Friday, October 21, proved that expectations are often false and community can be found in surprising places.

An Oklahoma Welcome

To plan and participate in the ceremony, four NativeEnergy staff—Tom Rawls, Joel Boucher, Mary Panks-Holmes, and I—traveled to Oklahoma, home of the Wewoka project. Jeff Bernicke, who has overseen the project, was also able to attend. Happily, we were joined by friends from ICF, Designtex, and Eco Products, who helped fund the project by purchasing Help Build™ carbon offsets.

We weren’t sure what to expect. Most of us were new to Oklahoma, and our first glimpse of the landscape was, no kidding, a series of oil pump jacks at the airport exit. They seemed to be waving at us in their slow, rhythmic way. But despite the power of fossil fuels in the state, there is room for energy innovation.

Good Things Come from Small Landfills

The Wewoka Biogas Project captures methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from a landfill and uses it to power kilns at the brick plant next door. This avoids approximately 30,000 tons of pollution per year and it also benefits the family-owned brick company, Wewoka’s largest employer, by providing discounted gas. It’s truly a community project, and we couldn’t wait to celebrate its commercial operation.

You might not consider a landfill a fitting location for an event, especially on a sunny southern day. But with the right people (and odor control from the project’s methane capture system), we might as well have been at a mountaintop resort. The ceremony kicked off with speeches from Enerdyne, the project developer; WCA, the landfill owner; Commercial Brick Corporation (CBC), the brick company; and NativeEnergy.

We distributed brick mementos to the project participants, and then it was time to cut the ribbon, which hung like a green stripe across the gates enclosing the gas blower, flare, and control center. It was powerful to see all of the major players—including our Project Supporters—stand together in front of the project that they brought to life. After several laughs and people-rearranging, they grabbed the oversized scissors and welcomed the project into operation. 

There’s a Lot More to Bricks…

If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t thought much about bricks. They’re red, they’re attractive, they’re probably made out of clay, right? But during the tour of CBC that followed the ribbon-cutting, we learned that there’s a lot more to bricks than sculpted mud.

With visitors wearing colorful hard hats in tow, CBC president Bob Hartsock led us through the grinding, molding, firing, and sorting process that every brick must go through before it’s shipped to a construction site.

The land in central and eastern Oklahoma is primarily shale-based, though it soon becomes red clay as you move west. Since 1927, CBC has dug the same 80 acres for shale, which is stored in shifting, gray piles that dwarf the surrounding buildings. In a beneficial relationship, the landfill then uses the finished depressions for waste storage.

We got to view the brick-making equipment throughout the plant, where we were treated to rich auditory effects—from crunching to whirring to creaking and stamping. But most exciting part, by far, was the kiln area.

Red, blue, and yellow pipes snaked across the top of the kilns. The red ones, Bob told us, convey landfill gas, while the blue and yellow are air and natural gas, respectively.

 Using a long, black instrument, a worker opened a tiny circular door and pulled out—red hot and glowing—a brick fired with landfill gas.

A Communal Project 

There really is nothing like visiting a Help Build™ project in person. What the words, pictures, and even videos can’t convey is the sense of community that emerges from these projects. As Carol Derby of Designtex said:

“It’s very exciting to be here, to see something that went live just a week ago, and to feel part of it—knowing that it would not have happened otherwise.”

Claudia Capitini of Eco Products added:

“It was a great trip… it is amazing to see those projects in person!”

We want to thank everyone who helped plan this great event, especially Enerdyne, and CBC and WCA for hosting us. It was truly inspiring, and I never thought a landfill could be inspirational.


Photos: The Wewoka dedication ceremony
The Designtex Blog: “Online
The Oklahoman: “Landfill gas to power Wewoka brick company's kilns

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