Imagine your home garbage disposal having the potential to break down all sorts of food waste, even the stuff your mom always told you would clog it up. Instead of draining into the sewer, it would flow into a tank in your garage that would get emptied once it’s full and converted into renewable energy.
The Missouri-based company, Emerson, follows this reasoning with Grind2Energy. Why should Clevelanders care about such technological advancements? It’s currently in use at FirstEnergy Stadium, Progressive Field, the Huntington Convention Center and Ohio State University’s Blackwell Inn.
Recently, Kent State University implemented this technology within their dining halls. Interested in learning more? Track the path from disposal at Kent State to the processing stage at a local anaerobic digestion facility, Quasar Energy Group.
Quasar is a waste management and renewable energy firm based in Collinwood. They’ve built anaerobic processing plants throughout 13 states including Massachusetts, Michigan, New York state and others. They schedule and supply organic feedstock for 8 of their plants, the others are operated independently.
What is the Grind2Energy system? It’s a heavy-duty foodservice grinder that accepts all types of food scraps, including meat, fish, bread, oils, produce and more — you name it, the Grind2Energy system can handle it. It then converts this waste into a slurry transported to an anaerobic digestion facility to become electricity or nutrient-rich soil.
The system can break down up to 3 tons of food in an hour. This waste is held in a tank that holds up to 5,000 gallons of slurry.
Heather Dougherty, business development lead at InSinkErator – a division of Emerson, spoke about why Grind2Energy was created.
“About a decade ago, InSinkErator, a business unit of Emerson Electric Co., recognized the need for commercial foodservice operations to have an alternate solution to divert their food scraps from landfills. The Grind2Energy system was designed to help these businesses such as universities, grocers and sports venues participate in a local closed-loop solution to efficiently manage their inedible food scraps.”
In the most basic terms, a closed-loop system means that the energy exerted stays inside some sort of machinery until we the end product. In this case, it’s fertilizer or renewable energy.
In 2020, Kent State University introduced this system to their dining facilities — first, with their newest dining hall, the Design and Innovation (DI) HUB, and in late 2021 with the Eastway dining facility.
As KSU’s sustainability manager, Melanie Knowles is responsible for making the university’s operations kinder to the environment. She’s currently working on expanding KSU’s solar panel array and adding more electric vehicle charging stations on campus.
Knowles said the university’s green initiatives are better for people, profits and the planet.
“We’ve been working on waste reduction, but for a long time, we really didn’t have a good way to divert food waste away from the landfill. So we’re paying for all that,” Knowles said. “There’s all this money that goes into just keeping waste in a giant pile when food waste, especially has these beneficial options of being able to renew the soil and with like the Grind2Energy system, it’s actually creating energy and it’s not coming from fossil fuels.”
To give an idea of how effective this technology is for the university, it processed 38.7 tons of food waste last year. This slurry generated 7,051 kilowatt-hours of energy, enough energy to power 7.8 homes for a month.
Why is this a better option than traditional composting? While institutions like Ohio University have started large-scale composting efforts, Grind2Energy can do this on an even larger scale without the stench from fertilizer and rotting food.
However, the university hasn’t ruled out composting as a potential solution to its waste problem. Knowles said every facility is different, meaning they require an individualized fix.
Casey Crane, the assistant director of sustainability and purchasing, explained what dining services is doing to combat food waste.
“Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the amount of waste that we’re generating as well. We’re looking at how we can capture those food items before they go bad so that we can redirect them to Flashes Fighting Hunger or the Cares center to increase access and try to help support the move towards a more just food system. Not just diverting the waste that we’re creating,” she said.
Food diversion is a step towards becoming a more environmentally conscious university, but how does the disposed-of food turn into renewable energy?
The Grind2Energy tank contains a capacity sensor that syncs to a dashboard that Crane can see in real-time. Once the tanks are nearly full, she calls Quasar to schedule a waste pickup.
This waste is transported to Quasar’s processing facility where the slurry is converted into energy and fertilizer via anaerobic digestion, which is a process through which microorganisms break down organic materials — food waste in this scenario.
Composting is commonly associated with gross smells, something that Quasar takes very seriously. In fact, Clint Pemberton, Quasar’s biomass area business manager, spoke on the matter.
“We have developed many new technologies for odor neutralization that we employ at our plants to manage any odors that are present in the material that we take in. We strive to be the best neighbor that we can be and any issues are promptly taken care of,” he said.
Since Grind2Energy has worked for Kent State, can it work for Cleveland’s wastewater management system? Pemberton doesn’t think so.
“If we’re speaking hypothetically, then yes. But converting the city’s existing wastewater management system into something similar to what we do isn’t realistic. It would take thousands, if not millions of dollars to go build Grind2Energy into local businesses,” he said.
However, this possibility shouldn’t be ruled out. Pemberton said that businesses could make their operations more eco-friendly if they’re willing to invest the time and money to do so.
Businesses could build small-scale compost facilities on their property or invest in Grind2Energy if it’s practical for their operations. You can contact Emerson to schedule an assessment here.
Hannah Davis is a senior journalism major attending Kent State University. She is an intern with The Land, in partnership with The NewsLab at KSU.
This story was produced as part of an environmental reporting initiative involving partners Ideastream Public Media, The Land, The NewsLab at Kent State University, La Mega Media, and the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative (NEOSOJO)
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