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Dairy Power - Food Waste Repurposing to Renewable Energy and Nutrients

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy®, (Innovation Center) which was established under the leadership of America’s dairy farmers.

Multiple dairy farms actively using food waste in on-farm anaerobic digesters.  See attached case study and info-graph of Jordan Farm dairy in Massachusetts  

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The U.S. dairy industry created a business model that enables a 21st bioeconomy for food and agriculture. The objective of Dairy Power - Food Waste Repurposing to Renewable Energy and Nutrients is to help dairy farms partner with food processors, retailers, school districts, restaurants, waste haulers and other sources of food scraps, to repurpose 100% of food waste and organic substrates to farm anaerobic digesters.  In one case, this goal is being achieved in Massachusetts — the first state to ban hospitals, universities, hotels, and large restaurants from discarding food waste in landfills.  Twelve companies are repurposing nearly 100% of their food waste to the Jordan Farm digester.  Annually, 20,000 tons of food waste and organic substrates are added to an anaerobic digester, along with cow manure from 350 dairy cows .  The digester turns this waste stream into $75,000 worth of crop fertilizer to grow more food, 3.7 million kWh to power nearly 308 homes, and eliminates of 5,600 tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, all in support of the production of 700,000 gallons of milk.  This process helps the food waste suppliers reach their goal of zero food waste to landfills.  This is but one example of many dairy farms in America, supported by the Innovation Center’s Dairy Power program, which are repurposing food waste and converting into renewable energy and nutrients to grow more food.

If possible (not required), please estimate how much food waste you aim to reduce, recover, or recycle (example: 500 lbs./year):

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified 2,600 dairy farms as feasible sites for anaerobic digesters.

There are about 200 farms currently with digesters operating on their farms.  The Innovation Center, in a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States Department of Agriculture (executed 4/24/13) agreed to accelerate and streamline the process of adopting anaerobic digesters by U.S. dairy farmers.  If the dairy industry reaches its goal of 2,600 anaerobic digesters on U.S. dairy farms, the digesters would have the capacity to process manure from the cows and more than 19.8 million tons of repurposed food waste per year. Instead of going to a landfill, commercial food waste can be converted into beneficial products such as: Destruction of methane, resulting in:

  • GHG emissions equivalent of taking 3.2 million cars off the road, or 25% of total U.S. dairy carbon footprint
  • Generation of renewable energy — and estimation of powering 1 million homes
  • Harvesting natural fertilizers – Nitrogen fertilizer for 5% of  corn production and phosphorous for more than all U.S. tomato production
  • Renewable soil amendment for lawn and garden-- 813 million bags of nutrient rich potting fiber

The total estimated economic value of maximizing food waste and manure and converting it to a beneficial use for society is $3 billion.

Activity 1

Next year, the Innovation Center will continue to lead wider industry adoption of sustainability practices through a comprehensive education effort to inform dairy producers, retailers and food manufactures on the role of dairy in repurposing food waste to animal feed and digesters.  The Innovation Center completed a report on the potential of digesters to contribute to the 21st century bioeconomy and feed the estimated 9 billion people on Earth in 2050.  For example:

  • 2,647 dairy digesters on dairy farms would have the combined capacity to dispose of 108 million tons of cow manure annually plus 19.8 million tons of food waste to repurposing into renewable energy and nutrients to grow more food.
  • Of the 19.8 million tons of food waste:
    • 15 million tons is commercial food waste diverted from landfills
    • 4.8 million tons is food waste from food processors
  • Diversion of food waste from landfills plus the addition of cow manure is estimated to avoid 13 million metric tons CO2-equivalent from being emitted into the air; equal to 3.2 million cars.

In addition, food waste mixed with cow manure could produce:

  • Electricity — 11.7 million megawatt hours per year at an estimated current market value of $894 million.
  • Nitrogen — 331,163 tons per year at a current market value of $467 million.
  • Phosphorous — 108,782 tons per year at a current market value of $324.6 million.
  • Fiber — 30 million cubic yards per year at a market value of $217 million

Activity 2

In 2014, the Innovation Center will increase its support of partnerships with the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association and other retailers and processors. The partnerships focus on reducing food waste and connecting retailers to farms, either to add to digesters or to donate feed for livestock.  For example, starting in September 2013, the Innovation Center will partner with a leading retailer to establish an intern position.  The purpose of the position is work within the context of the leading retailer’s corporate sustainability goals and contributes to improving sustainability performance through cataloging and benchmarking food waste, energy, water, and GHG metrics at manufacturing plants.  Resulting from this partnership, the leading retailer and the Innovation Center will identify food waste repurposing options as a model for other retailers to consider.

Activity 3

In November 2013 and building throughout 2014, the Innovation Center and the National Football League (NFL) will launch a stadium food waste repurposing program.  The first program will be located at the Cleveland Browns stadium in Cleveland, OH, in association with InSinkErator, Emerson Electric, ARAMARK food service, quasar energy group and the Cleveland Browns. 

The NFL Cleveland Browns stadium will install a “Grind2Energy” system.  Stadium food scraps will be ground into slurry and transferred to an on-site storage tank, instead of going into a landfill. Food scraps include vegetable and fruit residuals, meat trimmings, left over hot dogs, hamburgers, etc.  The food waste will be transported from the stadium to an anaerobic digester where food waste will be mixed with cow manure to produce green power and nutrient fertilizer to back to the land to grow more food. 

Environmental Benefits The partnership will help improve the Cleveland Browns impact on the environment and produce sustainable benefits.  If all NFL stadiums participated in a similar partnership with the dairy industry, the following benefits could be achieved:

  • Diversion of 620 tons per year of food scraps from landfills
  • Reduction of CO2 emissions by 465,000 pounds per year
  • Production of natural gas to heat 341 homes for one month
  • Creation of 86,800 pounds of nutrient-rich fertilizer to replace chemical fertilizer

Activity 4

In June 2013 the Innovation Center and Notre Dame University developed a partnership and intern program to develop a business model for a campus wide food waste recycling program.   The goal is to develop a sustainable ROI and repurpose food waste to a dairy farm digester to produce renewable energy and agricultural fertilizer for crops.  Notre Dame is in the process of implementing the recommendations.

The next step in 2014 is to reach out to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) and propose a national “Campus Challenge” to reduce food waste on the two-hundred fifty-nine institutions currently participating in the STARS programs to assess their sustainability performance. 

The Innovation Center is also considering work with Net Impact chapters across universities to think broadly about food waste and repurposing it back to farmers through composting and digesters.  The Innovation Center will be conducting a study evaluating how university cafeteria food waste reductions could help the environment as well as student loans.

Activity 5

In October 2013 through February 2014 the Innovation Center intends to partner with MIT Sloan School of Management MBA students and Complete Recycling to drive transformational change in food waste repurposing across multiple industries. The Innovation Center and Complete Recycling, working with MIT student will research, design and develop the nation’s first online food waste “Trading Platform” where food waste generators (“the sellers”: food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.) will be able to easily connect with food waste consumers (“the buyers”: farmers, anaerobic digesters, composters)  .  These connections will create food waste recycling and landfill diversion success stories and position food waste as a tradable commodity on a national scale.   

Today, most food waste generators want to divert their food waste from landfill as long as it is at least cost neutral for them. Many food waste consumers can offer cost neutral or revenue producing pricing to food waste generators. These "buyers" are currently very difficult to locate.  If they are located, it is usually through "middlemen" brokers, word of mouth, or internet searches. This platform will connect the buyers and sellers of food waste, make the transaction of food waste exchanges easy.  The platform will be designed to exchange animal feed (connecting food waste suppliers with farmers) and exchange food waste to farm digesters.  The platform will be pilot tested in 2014 using a dairy digester and food waste suppliers in Massachusetts.