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Home > Feature Articles > Food Processing for Sustainable, Local, Organic and Effective Food Distribution

Anarobic Digestion of Food Wastes and Wastewater

Anaerobic digestion converts organic carbon into carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4)- a concoction called biogas. Food waste can be anaerobically digested for energy value and landfill diversion.

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Anarobic Digestion to Produce Biogas

Recycling is not just about landfill diversion, it is about replacing virgin material production which will significantly reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Anaerobic Digestion treats wastewater, minimizes waste and yields energy; it is an ancient yet currently widely used technology that holds incredible promise for the future.

The US EPA, Region 9 Office of Pollution Prevention and Solid Waste shares the final report "Anaerobic Digestion of Food Waste."

"Anaerobic Digestion of Food Waste."

In 2006 EPA Region 9 awarded a $50,000 grant to East Bay Municipal District (EBMUD), a wastewater treatment facility in Oakland, California to investigate anaerobically digesting food wastes from restaurants, grocery stores and other food-handling facilities at a wastewater treatment facility.

Anarobic Digesters of Food Wastes

EBMUD bench-scale digesters were fed only food wastes, but were operated under a variety of conditions, varying digester loading rates, temperature, and other parameters. The project recovered significant quantities of energy from food waste as well as high volatile solids reduction, showing the potential of diverting large quantities of valuable food waste from landfills.

The final report and a fact sheet summarizing the results can be found on EPA's website at REPORT: "Anaerobic Digestion of Food Waste."

Anarobic Digesters of Wastewater

In recent years, scientific advances have been made in the use of anaerobic digesters already in place at wastewater treatment plants to co-digest food waste with biosolids.

There are many benefits to using the anaerobic digesters at local wastewater treatment facilities to digest food waste including:

  • Existing excess capacity
  • On-site expertise
  • Systems to utilize the biogas produced
  • A method of reducing the volume of the food waste before transporting it to compost facilities.

Anaerobic digestion is almost as old as the planet itself. It is a process that, in the absence of oxygen, converts organic carbon into carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4)-a concoction called biogas.

Biogas is a methane rich gas produced by the anaerobic digestion of animal dung, human sewage and/or organic waste. Biogas also contains carbon dioxide, which can be used as an energy source.

Cara Peck
U.S. EPA Region 9
Office of Pollution Prevention and Solid Waste
Peck.C @

RCM Digesters

Anarobic digesters are attractive to landfill operations because they help generate revenue from energy production and creation of new products. According to RCM Digesters, this recycling of raw content also reduces:
  • Treatment Costs
  • Manure Solids
  • Sludge Accumulation
  • Pathogens,
  • Manure Odors
  • Weed Seeds

Anarobic Digestion offers new "green collar" job creation. Opportunities are available for individuals with balanced engineering and biology backgrounds. Travel and long hours are part of this "hands on" job area that includes a wide variety of responsibilities including farm engineering, computer design, chemistry, anaerobic metabolism, project management, client relations, construction planning and observation, pipe fitting and concrete yoweling.

RCM Digesters
PO Box 4716
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 834.4568

Additional Anarobic Digestion Resources

National Food and Energy Council (NFEC) is an association of nearly 200 electric companies, cooperatives and public power districts that help their members serve their rural customers. They provide technical support and assistance to help power suppliers with motor efficiency, security lighting for businesses, standby generator sizing and distributed generation sources.

The Midwest Rural Energy Council The MREC is a membership organization with Land Grant Universities. Agricultural operations are increasingly becoming energy generators as well as energy consumers and the MREC provides educational information on Biogas/Digesters, Wind Energy, Distributed Interconnection and other Bioenergy & Bioproducts.

EPA's AgSTAR Program The AgSTAR Program is a voluntary effort jointly sponsored by the U.S. EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Energy. The program encourages the use of methane recovery (biogas) technologies at the confined animal feeding operations that manage manure as liquids or slurries. These technologies reduce methane emissions while achieving other environmental benefits.

Agricultural Utilization Research Institute is all about value-added agriculture. AURI is the research and development arm of Minnesota agriculture. AURI is a unique and innovative nonprofit corporation working to enhance Minnesota's economy through the development of new uses and new markets for the state's agricultural products. Programs include a Renewable Energy Roundtable and the Center for Producer-Owned Energy.

Independent Energy Producers Association is California's oldest and leading nonprofit trade association, representing the interest of developers and operators of independent energy facilities and independent power marketers.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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