There was great excitement in the greater New York City metro region last week, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that construction will start on the area’s first ever large scale anaerobic food waste digester system. Located in the hamlet of Yaphank, which happens to be the geographical center of Long Island, the new facility is expected to handle about 160,000 tons of waste annually, including solid food waste, fats, oils, grease, and grass clippings — double the capacity at any existing facility of its kind in New York State.
So…just how sophisticated is this new food waste digester system? According to the developer, American Organic Energy, GE Water and Quasar Energy Group are partners in the project, so let’s take a closer look.
For those of you new to the topic, anaerobic refers to micro-organisms that thrive without oxygen, and a digester is basically a large fully enclosed tank. If you lock anaerobic organisms in a sealed environment without oxygen but with plenty of food scraps and other organic waste, they produce methane-rich gas through their digestive process. Essentially, it’s the natural process of decomposition revved up to optimal speed and efficiency. The leftover “sludge” is a relatively neutral substance, since decomposition has already occurred, and it can be dewatered and used as a soil enhancer.
Anaerobic technology is nothing new, but it was not widely adopted until the Obama Administration began promoting it as a commercially and environmentally successful way to deal with livestock waste as well as human waste and food waste.
Co-digesting food waste with human waste is also becoming a thing, as illustrated by a project at New York City’s massive Newtown Creek wastewater treatment plant.
The new Yaphank facility won’t dig into Long Island’s dwindling stock of undeveloped land. It will be located at the existing Long Island Compost facility. Last spring, Long Island Compost entered into a marketing partnership with Scotts Miracle-Gro, which is another partner in the new food waste project.
That takes part of the solids recycling end of the equation. American Organic Energy also expects to convert digester gas from the operation for use in trucks at Long Island Compost, replacing about 200,000 gallons of diesel annually.
CleanTechnica generally gives the stinkeye to supposedly “clean” CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicles, given that most natural gas in the US is fossily sourced. However, landfill gas and other renewable sources are emerging on the scene, which makes CNG vehicles — and similarly, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — more environmentally honest. The new food waste facility adds yet another sustainable source to the list.
Over and above what the truck fleet at the facility uses, American Organic Energy anticipates producing an additional equivalent of almost two million gallons of diesel fuel per yer. All that excess biogas will be sent to an existing natural gas pipeline operated by National Grid, to be used for CNG vehicles in other locations.
Biogas will also be used to run gas turbines, generating electricity for use on site. In fact, all of the electricity needed to run the new system will come from its own biogas.
GE is best known for electricity, of course, but in recent years it has made some big moves into water and wastewater treatment. For example, just last year GE began marketing an advanced digestion system following the acquisition of its developer, Monsal.
In addition to biogas and solids, anaerobic digesters also produce copious amounts of water, and American Organic Energy expects to partner with GE Water for water treatment and nutrient reclamation.
The other partner in the project, Quasar Energy Group, also sports an impressive pedigree. Specializing in “turn-key” anaerobic digester systems for agricultural waste, the Cleveland-based company has a lab and engineering facility at The Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
As for Long Island Compost, the company has a 30-year track record in converting commercial yard waste to garden products, including a specialty division that produces custom soils for botanic gardens and golf courses among other sites demanding strict quality control.
Long Island Compost already employs about 150 people at two facilities, and the new digester operation is expected to add more slots to the overall recycling jobs market in the region.