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New York City will heat homes with biogas made from food scraps

| January 14, 2014

You’ve heard of the “farm to table” trend of eating local food direct from local farmers. Now there’s the “table to furnace” trend.

food scraps can turn in to biogas

A new program is turning food scraps into biogas. From Steven DePolo.

Umm…what?

That’s right. New York City, ever the trendsetter, has found a highly-productive and avant garde purpose for leftover food. They’re packing it up by the truckload and sending it to a massive wastewater treatment plant. There, it will be processed into methane-rich biogas that can be used to heat homes.

The biogas will have to be purified, but that’s a small price to pay for creating heat out of old, soggy pancakes, right?

The scheme is currently in the pilot phase, but it has incredible potential. The program was devised to address two challenges:

  • Currently, New York City ships enormous quantities of food waste out of state, where it ends up in landfills; and
  • New York City isn’t thrilled with their current greenhouse gas emission rates. They’ve launched a PlaNYC goal of cutting emissions by 30 percent by 2017.

The project is the brainchild of former Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway, Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, and Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland.

biogas

Biogas can be used as fuel for heat, among other uses. From Gabriel Pollard.

So what exactly is going to happen?

Matt Hickman of Mother Nature Network reports that, “Currently, the Department of Environmental Protection reuses in the ballpark of 40 percent of the naturally occurring biogas produced at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Plant [….] while the excess 60 percent is flared into the atmosphere.”

The pilot program will reuse 100 percent of the biogas. With 500 million cubic feet of biogas produced at the facility annually, going from 40 percent reuse to 100 percent reuse will have a big impact.

Under the pilot, food scraps will be collected from 200 schools, “predominantly in Brooklyn.” Pending the results of the pilot, scraps from an additional 200 schools and 100,000 private homes will be added to the collection pool.

This is an all-hands-on-deck recycling effort, with Waste Management collecting and transporting the scraps, the treatment plant turning scraps into biogas, and the National Grid converting biogas into a purified form described as “clean, pipeline quality natural gas [that] will be used to heat homes and boroughs across the five boroughs.”

Why is this so exciting? Because it packs the double wallop of keeping food out of landfills and producing much-needed heat. With record cold temperatures chilling the nation this winter, this is a timely project indeed.

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Category: Food, Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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