Massachusetts Food Waste Ban is a Biogas Catalyst

By Anna Simet | June 26, 2014

Early in the year, Massachusetts introduced a state food waste ban, which goes into effect on Oct. 1.

After that, any entity that disposes of at least one ton of organic material per week is required to donate or repurpose the useable food. Remaining food waste must be either shipped to an anaerobic digestion (AD) facility or sent to composting and animal feed operations.

Obviously, this is easier said than done. In order for it to work, the facilities must be there. We’re not talking about the chicken-or-egg scenario that is notorious in the world of bioenergy, because the feedstock—food waste—already exists in large quantities. Now, it’s about where to send it.

To help make its goals achievable, the state has begun working to site composting and AD operations on farms, wastewater treatment plants and other public and private locations, providing technical assistance and up to $1 million in grants. The first grant went to the Massachusetts Water Resources Agency for its wastewater treatment plant at Deer Island, which currently processes sludge in a dozen large, egg-shaped digesters and captures and uses the resulting biogas to produce heat and power for the plant. Beginning in July, a pilot project there will introduce food waste to one of the chambers to determine the effects of codigestion on operations and biogas production. (Note: this facility is one of just five of Massachusetts’ 133 wastewater treatment plants that are currently equipped with digesters using biogas as a source of energy.)

Here are just a few examples of other realted developments/initiatives:

*$3 million in low-interest loans has been made available to private companies building anaerobic digestion facilities.

*UMass-Amherst has spurred construction of an anaerobic digester at its facility's wastewater treatment plant.

*Feasibility studies were done at two Massachusetts Department of Corrections facilities in Shirley and Norfolk. The Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance was to issue a request pursuing the construction of anaerobic digesters on this state-owned land (not sure if that’s happened yet, couldn’t find an RFP notice on the DCAMM site)

*Several privately owned dairy digesters have begun to accept food waste.

*Company Bluesphere has signed a memorandum of understanding with a local developer operating in the recycling and compost business to co-develop a waste-to-energy project in the Boston metropolitan area, with plans of taking advantage of the site’s existing operations to build and operate a 5.2 MW waste-to-energy plant on the same premises.

*Construction has begun at the Crapo Hill Landfill in Dartmouth, Mass., on the CRMC Dartmouth Bioenergy Facility, an anaerobic digestion project developed by CommonWealth Resource Management Corporation in cooperation with the Greater New Bedford Regional Refuse Management District. The Bioenergy Facility will produce biogas for use as a supplemental fuel by an existing 3.3-MW landfill gas-fired electric power generating facility at the landfill. Operation of the Bioenergy Facility at the landfill is expected to enable the District to adapt to changes in the state’s solid waste management regulations regarding food wastes and other organics. 

The Deval administration has been pushing for biogas for several years.  In 2012, Gov. Devaldelivered a speech that promoted development of a biogas sector in the state. At the time, he said his agencies were working on a plan to replicate what some European countries have done to make their biogas industries rapidly expand.

Looks like that is proving to be true.

On that note, Biomass Magazine is in the process of compiling data for our first-ever biogas plant map—which will be quite similar to our other map products, and I’m really interested to see what Massachusetts looks like in terms of a developing/expanding industry. This undertaking is likely to take us many months to complete, but when we’re done, you can expect us to deliver to you the most accurate, up-to-date data possible.

Stay tuned.