On Jan. 8, Richard Swope left the work site of his beloved biomass energy project at Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. to hit the slopes at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Before leaving, he joked around with another of the project’s leaders, Algae AquaCulture Technologies (AACT) President Michael Smith. Smith believes he may have been the last person to speak with Swope, who died later that day of a heart attack while skiing. He was 68.
Late last week, the foundation was laid for the AACT biomass plant at Stoltze, a project Swope was heavily involved with as chief strategist. Swope was on everybody’s mind that day.
“Today we’re pouring the foundation for our prototype building and we fully intend to name it in honor of Dick,” Smith said on Jan. 14.
Swope, a retired lieutenant general with the United States Air Force living in Whitefish, used his connections in Washington D.C. to stimulate support for the biomass project, which is the brainchild of scientists at Whitefish-based AACT. He also provided management expertise, as well as a knowledgeable background in alternative energy.
When completed, the plant will convert waste material from Stoltze’s mill into energy, while also producing valuable byproducts to be used in organic fertilizers and soil amendments. Smith said the soil amendments have high market value. The system also incorporates algae in its processes. The algae are grown on site.
A one-tenth scale model of the biomass system has already been operating at Stoltze. The full-scale building, for which the foundation was laid last week, should hopefully be completed in its first phase in March, Smith said. AACT received a $350,000 grant from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
If everything goes right, Smith said up to six facilities could be built at the Stoltze site. There are benefits for Stoltze, which can utilize its waste wood and use the extra energy produced by the plant. In a later phase, heat from an AACT boiler will also dry Stoltze’s lumber. The system can consume residue from the milling process, bark, woodchips and other waste material, Smith said.
In addition to serving as chief strategist, Swope was chairman of the board. Swope said in an interview with the Beacon last January that he had become involved with alternative energy on behalf of the Department of Defense, which he said is researching ways to decrease the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
When Swope heard about AACT’s plans, he jumped at the opportunity to take part in an alternative energy project right in his backyard. Smith said Swope had retired from a separate consulting job eight days before his death and was looking forward to spending more time in Whitefish and less time in Washington D.C.
Smith said Swope was “very important to the team” and will be missed dearly.
“He was very excited about this project,” Smith said. “It would be hard to find anyone else more enthused about it. And he loved it here. He called Whitefish paradise.”
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