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by Mike Zazaian October 30, 2006 - 1:53pm, 7 Comments

UC Davis' anaerobic digester turns food scraps into energy

A team of researchers at the University of California, Davis have developed a device that turns leftover food scraps into clean, usable energy.

Developed Ruihong Zhang, a UC Davis professor of biological and agricultural engineering, the new anaerobic phased solids digester uses bacteria to digest food scraps and other organic matter, producing hydrogen and methane gases that can be used to generate energy. The university’s Biogas Energy Project has licensed the technology for commercial use to Onsite Power Systems Inc., which will initially process eight tons of food scraps weekly, in turn producing enough energy to power ten large California homes. Said Onsite CEO Dave Konwinski:

This technology will make a substantial dent in both our landfill needs and our use of petroleum and coal for fuels and electricity. It also will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

UC Davis professor Ruihong Zhang inaugurates the digester with a shovel of food scrapsOrganic matter used in the project will be provided by Norcal Waste Systems, a company that collects over 300 tons of food scraps from 2,000 restaurants in San Francisco and 150 more restaurants in Oakland. And while researchers have decided to employ food matter in their work, the same process can be applied to a wide array of organic matter including yard trimmings, animal manure and rice straw. Scientists in the UC Davis project have turned to food scraps simply because of their immediate availability and renewal, with over 5 million tons of food scraps being put into landfills each year. Said Chris Choate, vice president of sustainability for Norcal:

New technology like UC Davis’ offers California opportunities to harvest energy out of approximately 50 percent of the waste material that the state currently sends to landfills and to significantly reduce landfill disposal.

The UC Davis team and Onsite Power Systems are working to increase the scale of the digester, hoping eventually to deploy the technology to businesses such as food processors, farms and dairies and others that produce large quantities of organic waste.

“We know what happens with bacteria in 10 to 5,000 gallons of water and waste, said Zhang, now we expect to see those bacteria perform as well, if not better, when they are in 50,000 to 300,000 gallons.

Press release from UC Davis
Via AutoblogGreen