Trash Power Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

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Article first published as Trash Power Coming to a Neighborhood Near You on Technorati.

Are you done eating that burger and fries? If so, can you pass me some of the leftovers so I fuel my car before I head home? No I don’t drive a DeLorean but it does appear Doc Brown’s future world is now becoming a closer reality with the conversion of commercial food waste to safe, cost-effective biogas renewable energy source. This means upcycling, the process of converting waste materials into new materials, may be a big market to keep an eye on.

Columbia Biogas announced this week it moved another step closer to delivering the first municipal food waste-to-renewable energy generator in the US. The company plans on beginning commercial operations late next year by providing 3 megawatts (MW) of electrical power (enough to meet electric needs for roughly 3,000 homes) from its plant in Portland, Oregon to PacifiCorp, a utility serving 1.7 million customers in six western states (the company operates as Pacific Power in Oregon, Washington and California).

Columbia Biogas uses anaerobic digestion technology, similar to a cow, as a renewable source of energy that makes methane rich biogas. The potential for biogas here in the US is really big. According to the U.S. EPA, landfills are the third-largest human-related source of methane in the U.S., accounting for 17% of all methane emissions in 2009.

In Europe, biogas contributes 2,250 MW of power (that is enough power to replace the entire Indian Point nuclear facility in Buchanan, New York). Last year Enerkem, another player in the waste to energy space, showed the world that one man’s garbage truly is another man’s treasure when it raised $60 million in financing. Valero Energy, the largest independent oil refiner in the world, with throughput capacity of ~3.3 millions barrels per day, was included in Enerkem’s latest equity financing round. With the help of $130 million in backing from the US Department of Agriculture ($80 million) and Department of Energy ($50), Enerkem will look to break ground on a waste-to-biofuels facility in Mississippi that can produce cellulosic ethanol. The company filed a Form F-1 with the US Securities and Exchange Commission back in February so going public should be right around the corner.

Rentech has patented technology that converts a wide range of biomass and waste feedstocks, including wood, wood residues, straw, switch grass, refuse-derived fuel, energy crops and agricultural residues, into syngas rich complex hydrocarbons that can be used to fuel commercial vehicles and planes. Despite a weak economic climate witnessed in many parts of the world, Rentech has been buying its stock under its $25 million share repurchase program. So confidence in the outlook for biogas is certainly strong. So when you go toss out the garbage tonight after dinner, just think that our future energy is in that hefty bag. You may want to keep an eye out for Doc Brown and a DeLorean.

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