News / USA

Seattle to Recycle Food Waste into Electricity

Food to fuel plan in the works

A Seattle company plans to recycle food into electricity.
A Seattle company plans to recycle food into electricity.

Multimedia

Audio
Ann Dornfeld

In the northwestern United States, the city of Seattle requires its residents to separate food waste from the rest of their trash. The food gets recycled into compost for lawns, gardens and, soon, into electricity.

Every day, at Cedar Grove Composting north of Seattle, truck after truck pulls into this huge warehouse to dump loads of food and yard waste.

"There's a nice mix of green waste and material. We actually have different seasons here in the tipping building," says Susan Thoman, business development director for Cedar Grove. "There's pumpkin season, that's the first of November after Halloween. We have Christmas tree season, which is obviously the first part of January after the holidays."

According to Thoman, food waste and yard waste are currently all dumped in a pile together. Then they're mixed with microbes, ground up, and poured in long, covered rows to biodegrade for a month.

Food and yard waste are currently dumped in a pile together, eventually resulting in a rich, dark pile of finished compost.
Food and yard waste are currently dumped in a pile together, eventually resulting in a rich, dark pile of finished compost.

The people who work at Cedar Grove talk about compost the way chefs talk about food. Thoman digs her hands into a rich, dark pile of the finished product.

"This is what it's all about, though, here. This is what those wonderful things we divert from the landfill turn into."

Alternative energy

Now Cedar Grove has a new recipe in mind for its food waste. Before turning banana peels and bread crusts into compost, the company wants to use them to create alternative energy.

Food waste would be separated and sprinkled with bacteria to help the food begin to break down. Then it would be poured into a closed container called an anaerobic digester, where the decomposing food would start releasing large amounts of methane.

Instead of letting that methane escape into the atmosphere, where it could contribute to global warming, Cedar Grove would suck it up and store it. Then they could burn it, to power and heat the compost facility.

Lawrence Klein, technology and development planner for Cedar Grove, says they could also convert the gas from the food waste to compressed natural gas, to fuel their trucks.

"I mean, it's a beautiful image," says Klein. "It's taking a waste product and then driving down the highway with it. I'm excited about it."

Electrifying waste

The natural gas could also provide electricity.

"That's somewhere in the lines of eight million to 10 million kilowatt hours per year," says Klein. "That's comparable to about 400-plus Seattle homes."

Turning food waste into biogas would make food recycling more profitable - especially because the food could still be used for compost after the gas-extraction process.

"Garbage is the key to sustainability," says Sally Brown, a soils scientist at the University of Washington. According to Brown, turning food scraps into energy may be new to Americans, but it's well-established in Europe.

"It's not the whole solution, but it's something that we have the technology in hand and it's something that can be done right away to provide a significant amount of electricity."

Wastewater treatment plants around the country already use anaerobic digesters to produce biogas from solid waste. Brown says food waste is even more efficient because it hasn't been eaten yet. That means it's still full of calories - and calories are energy.

Cedar Grove has gotten a million-dollar grant from the state government to pursue its food-to-fuel plan. The company is in the design and permitting phase.

Once construction starts, it could be up and running within a year.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More