Food waste from University of South Carolina cafeterias and other homes and businesses in Columbia, S.C. won’t be headed to the landfill for long.
Waste 2 Energy (W2E) LLC, a local start-up co-founded by city councilmember at-large Dan Rickenmann, announced this week that it has received the funds to build a $25 million anaerobic-digestion facility in the region.
The 48,000-ton facility will accept all forms of organic waste from the Columbia area and convert it into electricity by utilizing anaerobic bacteria.
Unlike the aerobic bacteria that typically break down waste in landfills, anaerobic bacteria can digest organic waste in the absence of oxygen – meaning plant operators can produce and extract methane in a completely sealed environment without fear of fugitive emissions.
Converting methane produced from the decomposition of organic waste is steadily growing in popularity – thanks in part to the EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP), which provides assistance to landfills that are good candidates for methane extraction.
But some environmentalists express concern that extracting methane from landfills for energy – called landfill gas-to-energy or LFGTE – may lead to excess methane seeping out into the atmosphere.
Proponents of anaerobic-digestion facilities, which have already been operated successfully in Europe, claim the technology solves the fugitive emissions problem by capturing 100 percent of all methane generated during decomposition.
While anaerobic-digestion facilities usually carry a much heavier price-tag than converting landfill methane to energy, the process is said to be much more efficient.
Even the most efficient landfill gas-to-energy systems only claim to capture about 90 percent of the methane produced in a given landfill.
The Columbia facility will use Eisenmann Corporation’s Biogas-GW technology to extract the most methane possible from decomposing waste, while separating unwanted contaminants and keeping the plant safe for the surrounding environment and human health.
Representatives from W2E LLC said construction will begin by the end of the year and expect the plant to be fully operational in 2012. In addition to providing electricity to the local grid, the digestion process will produce soil additives that will be used by local farmers.
Funding for the plant was acquired through the partnership with Eisenmann and additional funding provided by Chicago-based Ciycor LLC.
The plant will be the first of four W2E-operated anaerobic digestors in the Southeast, according to the firm.