Food waste and energy sustainability are two of the biggest problems facing America today. According to a Guardian article, we waste 150,000 tons of food per day, which equals about 1 pound per person. We also get around 80% of our energy from fossil fuels, which will run out eventually. It isn’t a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.” What if we could find a solution for both food waste and energy at the same time?
How it works
Organizations like the Heartland Biogas Project believe they’ve found one. Located in Colorado, the facility is home to six giant tanks containing over 1 ½ million gallons of cattle manure and food waste. Through anaerobic digestion, all this gunk is turned into liquid and then converted into biogas. That biogas heads off to a pipeline and generates electricity. The biogas produced through anaerobic digestion contains a lot of methane, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. At Heartland, the methane is captured and converted into safer CO2 when the fuel burns.
What are the benefits of biogas? The most obvious one is that it is renewable. There will always be food waste and manure to convert into gas. It also produces zero net emissions, so it’s safe for the environment. Speaking of the environment, the biogas process produces a sludge that’s full of nutrients. When watered down, it could be used as fertilizer for farms.
Not everyone is happy with the process of turning food waste into fuel. In 2016, there were more than 600 odor complaints against the Heartland Biogas Facility, triggering a lawsuit. About 80% of the complaints came from just 10 people. Heartland ended up losing the suit, and though the above paragraphs are written in the present tense, the reality is that the Colorado facility is no more. That same year, Germany had 9,000 biogas plants using anaerobic digestion. Though Heartland had to stop operations, using food waste to produce fuel is slowly becoming more accepted worldwide.