Wisconsin food companies have recently partnered with NEW Organic Digestion (a division of Northern Concrete) to assist in the disposal of its food processing byproducts. Together the companies have installed an anaerobic biodigester system to recycle food-processing waste that typically would be land spread in designated areas. The biodigester produces fertilizer, animal bedding and electricity, but even more importantly, it will help continue to power Northeast Wisconsin jobs.
The current land base in Brown County for the disposal of food processing byproducts is decreasing, while the number of cows is increasing. “Brown County is running out of land for us to utilize, and with a biodigester, there is room for the processing and dairy industries to grow,” said Steve Vanlannen, Executive Vice President of American Foods Group. Currently AFG employs 1,500 people from the Green Bay area, and by creating disposal alternatives, output can increase, providing more employment opportunities in several different industries. “The biodigester is a part of our overall initiative to find alternatives to the current disposal process. This particular solution goes above and beyond state regulations, and is a proactive environmental approach.”
Rob Larsen, Co-owner of NEW Organic Digestion explained that the biodigester, manufactured by GHD, Inc., “re-recycles” because it first uses the byproducts from food processors to create electricity, and then that leftover material is reused as fertilizer or animal bedding. “Essentially it’s like a mechanical stomach that rests 14 feet in the ground and measures 106 feet long and 65 feet wide, but it processes a slurry of byproducts and water instead of food,” stated Larsen.
Bacteria turn the waste into methane while thriving in the digester tank that is set at 100 degrees. The methane rises to the top of the tank and fuels an engine that turns a generator, which creates electricity. One digester can generate 1.8 megawatts of power, enough electricity to power over 300 homes.
“This is more than just generating power,” said Larsen. “There’s a bigger picture that includes protecting the environment by creating organic fertilizer and animal bedding from a material that would have ended up in a landfill. No one can put a price tag on that.”
After the byproduct slurry has been processed, the end product is very high in nutrients. Larsen pointed out that it not only can be spread on fields, but it can be used to fertilize houseplants. “There’s no smell to it! And besides being used as a fertilizer, it makes great farm animal bedding because it contains less bacteria than most other materials that are used.