4 Unique Ways Food Waste Is Used for Fuel

By Paul Batistelli

Paul Batistelli is a writer for JustEnergy.com, a leading energy solutions website with a focus on green energy and energy efficient programs.

Getting food from farms to your table is a huge energy expense. According to a National Resource Defense Council report, it consumes 10 percent of the United States’ energy budget, guzzles 80 percent of the nation’s total water consumption and uses 50 percent of the nation’s land.

Yet even with such great expense taken to keep grocery stores stocked, about 40 percent of all food—$165 billion worth—is wasted in the United States each year. All the while, there are millions of people who don’t get enough to eat, cities are running out of water and landfills are piling up.

But that’s not to say nothing’s being done. These four projects take the cake by finding unique ways to transform food waste into energy.

1. Football stadium turns junk food into renewable fuel

You might not think of a football stadium as the ideal place to generate energy, but the truth is, the football industry is ripe with opportunity. Millions of people gather at these stadiums to cheer on their favorite teams, throwing away tons of half-eaten hot dogs or discarding warm beer.

Believe it or not, that amounts to a lot of waste. The FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland is working to change that. In a partnership with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the Cleveland Browns have initiated a new program that will divert as much as 35 tons of food waste created in the stadium.

The waste will be placed in a system, called Grind2Energy, that grinds up food waste into a slurry. The slurry will then be transported to an anaerobic digestion facility, where biodigestors convert the waste into energy.

Not only will this keep 35 tons of waste from Ohio landfills, it will also reduce carbon emissions at FirstEnergy Stadium by 28,000 pounds per year. That’s enough gas to fill a 13 mile-wide balloon!

The whole process of turning waste into energy will:

  • Power one household for an entire year
  • Generate natural gas to heat 32 homes for a month
  • Recover enough nutrients to fertilize three football fields worth of crops.

2. Grocery store chain uses food waste to power warehouse

There’s a high price to having the freshest products on the shelf in your supermarket. Anything that goes bad before it can be sold or donated is wasted. Food 4 Less and Ralphs, both Kroger companies, can attest to the sheer volume of waste. About 300 of these stores produce 150 tons of food waste every day.

Each store loads its daily food waste onto a truck and sends the rotting food to a distribution center in Compton, California, where it’s all combined. Until recently, it was then trucked about 100 miles away to a composter. The stores expended a lot of resources, both financial and environmental, to get rid of their food waste.

However, in 2013, the process changed. Kroger decided to purchase an anaerobic digestion system from Feed Resource Recovery.

The system was placed at the companies’ distribution center in Compton. The waste stream that was once a burden to the grocery store chain now powers 20 percent of the 49-acre facility, which includes a 650,000 square foot warehouse, a creamery and corporate offices for Ralphs and Food 4 Less.

The food is first put through a blending system to remove all inorganic material, such as plastic packaging or glass and metal. Then the waste is placed in an oxygen-starved chamber where it breaks down, creating biogas and a mix of nutrients.

In addition to the environmental advantages of reusing food waste, Kroger estimates the system will eliminate more than 500,000 miles worth of diesel-fueled truck trips every year.

3. New city to get heat from pistachios

Turkey is one of the world’s largest exporters of pistachios, sending out more than 6,000 tons last year alone. That amount of pistachio production creates a lot of waste from spoiled nuts as well as shells. It may seem like a nutty idea, but Turkey believes its vast amount of pistachio waste can power 60 percent of the eco-city it plans to build.

Although the eco-city, which will be located just outside of Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey, is still pending approval from authorities, it hasn’t stopped developers from looking into renewable energy options for the new town. Fortunately, it didn’t have to look much further than its largest export.

Burning the nut resource will create biogas, which can be converted to heat the 200,000 planned homes in the city. Once the eco-city plans are approved, Turkey will start a 55-hectare (about 135 acre) pilot project to test the technology before the eco-city is fully constructed.

4. Artist uses gasification to power his studio

Energy innovations can come from the most interesting sources and intriguing people. Jim Mason, an artist from Berkeley, California, is now selling personal gasification machines that transform your food waste into energy.

Mason started his career as an artist. He purchased a location, dubbed the Shipyard, where he rented out space for studios, welding, performance art and occasionally living quarters. Due to a fire hazard, the city asked Mason to stop his activities on the property. After he refused, they turned off his power.

While that may seem like the end of the story, it’s actually just the beginning. The city’s move just motivated Mason to find alternative power sources for the Shipyard. He settled on gasification.

Gasification is the process of smoldering food waste to create energy. Because the waste smolders instead of burning it doesn’t combust and release any carbon emissions. Instead, hydrogen gas is released, which can then be converted to usable electricity.

Once the process is finished, nutrient-rich coals are all that’s left. When planted in the ground, these coals provide a fertilizer, so every bit of the food waste can be used.

Mason’s company, All Power Labs, has already sold more than 500 of its gasification systems. Although these machines cost $27,000 a piece, they can generate renewable energy for less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

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