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A front-end loader delivers compostable material into one of the chambers of the UW Oshkosh Biodigester, first of its kind in the western hemisphere.

There’s a new opportunity for regional businesses, schools, nonprofits and other organizations to help produce renewable energy at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s groundbreaking “Biodigester” facility.

Dozens of restaurants, grocers, K-12 schools, hospitals and senior living communities are being recruited as partners in a new, community-based, food-waste-to-energy collaboration led by UW Oshkosh and Sanimax, a North American recycling pioneer since 1881 with 15 locations in Canada, the U.S and Mexico, specializing in byproduct collection services and transformation into high quality products.

Since 2011, UW Oshkosh’s state-of-the-art Biodigester, developed in partnership with the UW Oshkosh Foundation and BIOFerm Energy Systems of Madison, has been using campus food waste, sourced agricultural plant waste and city of Oshkosh grass clippings in the production of biogas. The large indoor composting and energy production facility in Oshkosh houses the waste in airless fermentation chambers after it is mixed in a large bay.

Biogas released by the decomposing organic material is captured and reused for heat and electricity. After 28 days, half of remaining material is reused for compost on local farms, and the other half is reused in a new fermenter batch. Nothing is wasted.

Now, UW Oshkosh and Sanimax are reaching out to storefronts, schools, health care organizations and other operations in the region that generate Organic Food Waste (OFW). They can serve as suppliers of the fuel the Biodigester needs to produce methane and renewable energy. The combination of anaerobic digestion and compost technology is the best available treatment technology for recovering value from OFW materials.

“Sanimax is proud to be a part of our partnership with the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh,” said Alan Ceschin, Organics Business Development Director for Sanimax.

“UW Oshkosh has invested in the technology for processing organic food waste into energy and building this technology into its curriculum for environmental sciences,” Ceschin said. “Sanimax brings years of experience and the necessary infrastructure for servicing food waste customers in the Fox Valley. Joining together with UWO to promote community awareness and participation for the diversion of food wastes from landfills just makes sense. It’s a clear win for the customer, the University and the environment.”

Sanimax has existing service routes for organic food waste materials in the Oshkosh and Fox Valley areas enabling quick and easy setup for new customers. The company already services the University, collecting food wastes generated from campus and area community dining facilities and transporting them to the Biodigester.

The public-private collaboration would not only expand that practice but, in the process, also help accelerate UW Oshkosh’s goal of generating about 8 percent of campus energy from the Biodigester alone.

Check out this UW Oshkosh student-produced video explaining how the Biodigester works…

httpv://youtu.be/pBjXv2T5hQ8

UW Oshkosh Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Tom Sonnleitner said the partnership will also keep the high-impact renewable energy research thriving at the University’s Environmental Research and Innovation Center. There, students and faculty study how to maximize Biodigester methane production.

“This is just one more way our academic community works hand-in-hand with private enterprise to propel student learning, pursue high-value research beneficial to industries and seek solutions to some of our greatest environmental challenges,” Sonnleitner said. “We are grateful to have a strong, responsible partner like Sanimax supporting this campus-community endeavor.”

Sanimax has already begun seeking waste-to-energy partners in the region eager to provide pre-and-post consumer food waste to fuel the Biodigester. The program meshes with the strong ethos of social responsibility practiced by small businesses and major corporations alike in Northeastern Wisconsin.

Data and public opinion suggests the demand and need for such a program abounds:

  • The 2009 Vision Oshkosh Final Report shows an overwhelming majority of survey participants wanting to see more sustainable initiatives in the community.
  • 62 percent of patrons choose restaurants based on commitment to the environment (National Restaurant Association, 2008).
  • According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated in 2010, second only to paper. Food waste accounted for almost 14 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream, less than three percent of which was recovered and recycled in 2010. The rest —33 million tons— was thrown away. Food waste was the single largest component of municipal solid waste reaching landfills and incinerators. (Source: www.epa.gov/osw).

By helping area schools, companies and nonprofit and their students, customers and clients divert their OFW from the landfill to the Biodigester, Sanimax and UW Oshkosh will also be helping demonstrate the incredible power of the renewable energy plant to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels:

  • The Biodigester produces enough energy to potentially power 210 average U.S. homes using 11,040 kWh per year.
  • It produces enough heat to potentially warm 180 average U.S. homes using 43.9 MMBTU per year.
  • Its annual biogas production is equivalent to 132,237 gallons of gasoline, enough to potentially fuel 246 cars for 15,000 miles at 28 mpg.

To learn more about how to participate and contribute pre-and-post-consumer food waste to the Sanimax-UW Oshkosh program, contact Laura Vandenberg: laura.vandenberg@sanimax.com or Michelle Bogden Muetzel: bogdenmm@uwosh.edu.

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