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Energy Canadian firm seeks to turn food waste to electricity

Energy: Restaurant Trash Could Be Converted Into Gas to Run Generator

The same latte commuters rely on for their morning buzz may soon provide a jolt of a different kind.

A coalition of environmentally minded entrepreneurs are looking to turn food waste into electricity. The plant, expected to be online by mid-2003, would reduce trash going to landfills, while also providing enough energy to power about 1,750 homes.

The San Diego-based Green Restaurant Association is working with Newmarket, Ontario-based Canada Composting, Inc. to bring a $20 million “biogas” plant to San Diego County. The plant would turn waste into compost, using methane generated from the project to generate electricity, said Michael Oshman, president of the GRA.

Institutions that generate a large amount of food-rich waste, such as supermarkets, restaurants, theme parks and universities, would be invited to send their waste to this plant rather than the landfill, Oshman said.

Once waste arrives on site, non-food waste would automatically be separated out, with recyclables sorted for reuse, said Bill Fowler, head of operations for the U.S. division of CCI, based in San Jose.

The food waste, meanwhile, is composted, eventually turning into soil. This process generates methane, which is then collected to generate electricity, he said.

The biogas plant has a capacity of 3.5 megawatts. Half of this is needed to run the plant machinery itself, leaving enough energy to power about 1,750 homes, Fowler said.

Target Date In 2003

Fowler hopes that by December of this year, he will have contracts in place to haul 100,000 tons of food-rich garbage annually. The plant could be operational by mid-2003, he said.

At this stage it would be too early to say where in the county the plant would be located, or how long the permitting process will take, Fowler said.

CCI has been in the biogas business since it was founded in 1991. The company has been running a similar plant in Newmarket, and has a second facility under construction in Toronto, scheduled to open by the end of the year, he said.

Now the company is looking to expand into the United States, starting with San Diego. Other cities CCI is looking to locate plants include San Francisco, San Jose, and Portland, Ore., Fowler said.

There were several reasons CCI is looking to site a biogas plant locally. Since San Diego is the headquarters of the GRA, and more than half of its members are based locally, CCI is relying on Oshman to help line up suppliers of food-rich waste, he said.

Also, San Diego is the seventh-largest city in the nation, and a plant must be located near a major urban center to collect enough food-rich waste to be economically viable. Another reason is that locally, the fees businesses are charged for traditional waste disposal are high enough that CCI’s price for hauling waste becomes competitive, Fowler said.

Encouraged By State Law

Oshman added that as the cost of taking trash to landfills continues to rise, hauling trash to a biogas plant will become more economical over time, he said.

But that’s not the only benefit to business. Under state law AB-939, residents and businesses are required to divert 50 percent of their trash from disposal facilities and landfills.

The law, approved in 1989, imposed a deadline of Dec. 31, 2000, for compliance. Although the state has not yet assessed penalties on cities that fail to meet the goal, the state could issue fines in the future. That means cities, in turn, could lean on major trash generators to clean up their act, Oshman said.

There’s also the public relations benefit, as an organization can show that it’s doing something to benefit the environment, he said.

Carolyn Chase, editor of the San Diego Earth Times, was familiar with the concept of biogas plants, and said she was interested in seeing what develops.

“It’s great to see that they’re becoming economical in the region,” she said. “It makes sense to divert the waste, since it saves landfill fees and saves landfill space. And if you’ve got a good process going, there’s no reason why you can’t turn it into biogas . I’m always happy to see things like this coming on line.”


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