Sign Up Early for SB'24 San Diego and Save! Spring Rate Ends June 23rd.

Waste Not
This Technology May Tackle 2 Sustainability Challenges in One Fell Swoop

Anaerobic digestion offers a solution to two major challenges: food waste and transitioning to clean energy. We spoke with Shawn Kreloff, founder and CEO of Bioenergy Devco, to discuss the technology’s potential.

As individuals, companies, and the government work to be more sustainable, food waste remains a challenge. In the US alone, we waste 80 million tons of food per year, according to Feeding America; and that waste emits potent greenhouse gases including methane into the atmosphere. While composting is an option at the individual or smaller municipality level, it takes time and is difficult to scale. But a time-tested technology, anaerobic digestion, could be emerging as a scalable solution — thanks to companies such as Bioenergy Devco.

Sustainable Brands® spoke with Shawn Kreloff, founder and CEO of Bioenergy Devco, to discuss how this innovative technology is a scaleable solution for organizations and municipalities dealing with excess food waste.

How is anaerobic digestion different from other organics-recycling methods such as composting?

Shawn Kreloff: Anaerobic digestion (AD) is an organics-recycling process in which organic materials are broken down naturally by microorganisms in the absence of oxygen. AD provides numerous environmental advantages that are lacking when organic waste is sent to landfills, where its breakdown results in the emission of harmful greenhouse gases. Increasingly, AD is proving to be the preferred method for managing organic waste.

AD and composting are both processes that involve the decomposition of organic matter, but they differ in terms of the conditions under which they occur and the end products they produce. Unlike composting, anaerobic digestion not only produces a healthy soil amendment — it also generates biogas that can be used as a clean, renewable energy source.

What makes anaerobic digestion a scalable solution in this space?

SK: Anaerobic digestion has significant advantages in the amount of food waste processed per acre. A typical, large AD plant can process 150,000 tons of food waste per year on approximately 5 acres. The average AD processing time (hold time) is 30 days, whereas windrow composting has a hold time of approximately 22 weeks.

What challenges or barriers might be hindering more widespread adoption for farmers or food manufacturers?

SK: The United States is grappling with the dual challenges of advancing clean-energy initiatives and establishing effective organic-waste management strategies. A year since Congress injected substantial investments into the clean-energy transition, progress has been made; but hurdles persist. Private-sector interest in clean-energy initiatives has surged — yet the approval process for energy projects exposes critical flaws that, if left unaddressed, could thwart the realization of clean-energy goals. These challenges exist at every governmental level — from local municipalities to the federal government.

How is Bioenergy Devco helping organizations and municipalities with excess food waste?

SK: Our Maryland Bioenergy facility is a great example of how we are helping organizations and municipalities with excess food waste. It serves a diverse range of stakeholders:

  1. Food industry: For food processors, institutions, and companies faced with the challenge of disposing of organic waste sustainably, Bioenergy Devco provides an innovative and cost-effective solution. By partnering with them, these entities can enhance waste management, reduce operating costs, and meet corporate sustainability goals.

  2. Municipalities: Collaboration with local and state governments and regional partnerships empowers the redirection of organic waste from landfills and incinerators. This approach not only supports broader zero-waste initiatives but also generates high-quality jobs and boosts local economies.

  3. Waste haulers: Designed with efficiency in mind, the Jessup facility provides waste haulers with a layout that optimizes traffic flow and multiple scales for streamlined operations. Open for deliveries 24/7 and strategically located near I-95, it helps haulers reduce transportation costs and attract sustainability-focused customers.

The Maryland Bioenergy Center is designed to recycle an impressive 110,000 tons of organic waste each year into natural gas and nutrient-rich soil digestate. The renewable natural gas produced at the facility, estimated to reach a staggering 312,000 MMBtu annually, represents a significant contribution to the region's energy landscape. This renewable natural gas can be utilized for various applications — from direct piping to utilities to green hydrogen production, offering an eco-friendly alternative to conventional natural gas sources.

In addition, the facility generates over 16,000 tons of rich, fertile soil amendment — which is an invaluable resource for agriculture and land use that contributes to healthier soil and fosters improved crop growth.

Bioenergy Devco also has projects in development in Delaware, Georgia, Virginia and New Jersey.

What are the environmental or community impacts of Bioenergy Devco’s AD centers?

SK: In essence, organic materials can offer a comprehensive strategy to enhance the soil, air and water quality of local communities. When used as raw materials for anaerobic digestion, redirected organic waste becomes a source of clean energy. Beyond the immediate benefits of organic waste reduction and spurring new industries, this approach fosters a more sustainable and resilient environment — positively impacting the well-being of ecosystems and the people inhabiting them.

Where should a farm, organization or municipality start if they want to implement anaerobic digestion into their organics-recycling process?

SK: The best way for a farm, company or municipality to start is to accurately assess their organic waste stream and research their organization’s goals on recycling. This assessment should capture tonnage, type of food waste, and waste-transportation and -hauling costs. This assessment will serve as a basis for doing a cost comparison and goals that can be achieved. Once this information is in hand, they should contact Bioenergy Devco and we can open a discussion on food-waste recycling possibilities.

Advertisement