Energy Blend: Waste not — BioDigester tests waste-to-power production in Yampa Valley
November 1, 2018
Sniff food that’s been left out too long, and the nose is assaulted by biogases. But, given the right system, these same biogases can be transformed into power and fertilizer.
"We trying to close the loop on everything," said Mark Berkley, as he described his vision to repurpose food waste from his Routt County agricultural business, Innovative Ag Colorado, which grows microgreens, edible flowers, herbs, and mushrooms for sale to restaurants and individuals.
To reduce the impact of his business, and others, Berkley and his partners are seeking to reduce the need to haul waste to landfills and make the most of every part of his product through the development of Innovative Regeneration Colorado.
"We are trying to do self-power through food waste," he said.
And on a small scale, it's working.
How it works
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A biodigester is like a stomach — food goes in and, in the absence of oxygen, bacteria breaks down this organic material to produce methane gases and fertilizer as by-products. The biogases are used fuel a natural gas generator.
The diversion of the biogas into natural gas generators is also being used to transform poop into power, as elsewhere, this sort of digestion — anaerobic digestion — is treating animal waste at farms and human waste in sewer treatment facilities.
"Animal waste can also be used, but it is hard to digest. Asian counties are using horse and cow manure. There are systems designed to create self-powered dairy farms," Berkely said, "On my end, I'm looking at a more flow-through system to purchase or build."
During the summer, he used a small biodigester to prove-out some of the processes.
By Berkely's calculation, small systems require about a gallon of food waste per day to create one to three cubic meters of methane per day, “allowing a family of four to cook three meals a day or me to run a generator for a couple hours a day," he said.
Restaurants are often left with up to 125 pounds of food waste per week, and a typical grocery store can end each week with more than 3,500 pounds of food waste.
Closing the loop on a business or within a community requires scaling up.
Berkely and his partners at Innovative Regeneration Colorado are working to scale up, seeking help to raise $125,000 via a GoFundMe page to cover start-up costs and the purchase of an organic waste recycling system, called a HORSE — High-solids Organic-waste Recycling System with Electrical Output.
Once the machine is fully operational, it will be able to handle more than 135 pounds of food and organic waste daily, and Berkely sees that as useful, not only in closing the loop on his own business operation, but also as a solution for other businesses and neighborhoods seeking a way to divert significant amounts of food waste from landfills.
"I am by no means an environmentalist," Berkley. "I just see that there are better, more efficient ways of doing things, and we have to break out of the mindset that we have been locked into."
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.