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Turn Food Waste Into Renewable Energy

By Alex Ageno | Energy, Urban Design
While one may take it for granted, food waste is just that: a waste. Overtly, much of the population is more than well aware of the sustainability concerns that surround such vocal issues as pollution, but there are many other issues that are just as important. Food waste is such an issue. How big of an issue is it? Due to food waste, billions of dollars are lost, endless landfills are used, and a vast amount of resources are wasted.
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Newton Creek’s digester egg. This is a stellar example of the practice at work.  Image via scienceline.org.

Never fret, though! Luckily, many sustainable solutions exist, helping to reduce the negative effects of food waste. Most impressive, however, is how technology can contribute positively to this cause. Through the use of various technological breakthroughs that aim to turn food scraps into a positive resource, food waste can be converted into energy to be used by a facility that is willing to do so.

How Food Waste Can Be Turned Into Energy

This is an innovative development. Turning food scraps into renewable energy is a practice that falls under “Resource Conservation-Food Waste“, according to EPA. While there may be other methods that practitioners use as the concept evolves further, the major way that this is accomplished is through anaerobic digestion. By breaking down organic material, the end result is biogas – a source of energy that can be used as a resource. True to the diversity of sustainability, similar methods can also turn food related industrial uses (such as fats and oils) into useable energy.

Technologies that are employed to do this are not exclusive to one particular method, such as the power plant.  Emerson, the makers of the InSinkErator, is working on the Grid2Energy recycling system that lets kitchens transport food waste to sources that can convert the waste.  Hopefully, this technology will be able to become available for personal households. As the concept gains traction and its benefits are ever so obvious, new technology will hopefully develop, to make the process far more available.   BioNova’s digester is another good example of technology that aims to help convert food scraps into usable resources.

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Chilworth Manor Hotel converts their food waste into energy.  Image via Hotel.info.

Food to Energy Examples

Various ways of reducing food waste have already been gaining momentum within a wide range of businesses and resource manufacturers. Not just limited to restaurants, converting food waste into energy is catching on beyond such a sampled space.  Some examples include:

Kroger

Kroger is one of the largest supermarket chains in the US. One of their divisions known as Ralphs and Food 4 Less, has developed a system that turns waste streams into renewable energy. The benefits are plentiful, including direct (more energy with less material) and indirect (decrease of truck travel, thereby reducing resources needed to travel) .

Marin Sanitary Service

The Marin Sanitary Service has recently launched a program that aims to take food scraps from restaurants in Marin, California, in order to convert them into usable resources. As the concept of food waste to energy gains steam, the benefits that it brings may inspire other cities to see what businesses (especially restaurants) can do to help in contributing to the recycling of food scraps. Hopefully, services like this can show other cities that investing in technology that turns food into energy is a good idea.

East Bay Municipal Utility District

The East Bay Municipal Utility District’s wastewater plant uses food scraps in order to power the entire plant.  This particular example shines due to the fact that the plant is using sustainable technology to save energy powering their own facility. As a result of using such technology, the wastewater plant serves as a good example of using sustainable technology to self-power one’s own facilities through food scraps.

SEaB Energy

SEaB Energy’s Flexibuster technology – “micro-power plant” – has contributed positively to the reduction of food waste for the Chillworth Hotel, owned by Best Western. This on-site technology has brought a plethora of benefits for the hotel. With sufficient technology that aims to provide hotels the ability to convert food waste to energy on-site, many more hotels can follow this example and help keep down costs, reduce food waste, and decrease negative indirect consequences.

About The Author

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Alex Ageno earned his degree in Urban Planning in 2013 from Arizona State University. Alex's interests in Urban Planning include Urban Design, Sustainability, Form Based Codes, Zoning, and Environmental Planning. He resides in Arizona.