From Food Waste to Fuel, CEAS Does Energy Sustainability Better
By: Ashley Duvelius (University of Cincinnati) CEAS researchers take aim at reducing the United States’ annual 40 percent of food waste and are now able to convert waste into solid fuels, biodiesel and other products.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that “a third of all the food produced in the world is never consumed,” totaling about 1.3 billion tons of waste a year. The United States alone wastes 40% of all food, worth an estimated $165 billion.
This waste decays in landfills and, without oxygen present, emits methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Consequently, food waste creates an overwhelming 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually and US greenhouse gas emissions account for 19% of the world’s total emissions, second only to China.
This alarming figure led UC College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) researchers to investigate alternatives to landfilling organic wastes. In October 2013, environmental engineering colleagues from the CEAS Department of Biomedical, Chemical, and Environmental Engineering, Timothy C. Keener, PhD, and Drew C. McAvoy, PhD—along with fellow faculty members Pablo Campo-Moreno, PhD, San-Mou Jeng, PhD, and George Sorial, PhD—proposed an innovative Smart Cities Project titled “A Pilot Study to Produce Bioenergy and Fertilizer from UC’s Food Waste.”
The proposal to convert food waste into gaseous fuels, solid fuels, biodiesel and other products was accepted and today, the study flourishes under the direction of Keener and McAvoy. In October 2014, the team launched a pilot plant that has diverted 660 pounds of food waste generated from UC’s Center Court Dining Center for research.
The researchers have since developed a breakthrough synergistic technology that uses anaerobic digestion to turn nutrient-rich organic materials into fuel (biogas), fertilizer, or soil conditioner, while using the carbon dioxide fraction of the biogas to grow algae. Simultaneously, lipid oils in the algae are also extracted and converted to biodiesel.
This novel process, which essentially integrates algae production with anaerobic digestion, allows researchers to almost completely utilize the carbon found in food waste in a renewable manner. READ MORE and MORE (Biodiesel Magazine)