NC State works to turn food waste into clean, cheap power

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A basement laboratory at North Carolina University houses landfill simulators that contain rotting food and grease. The 95-degree room smells just like one would expect.

Bio stimulators controlled by a number of different variables work to figure out the best way to turn sludge food waste into food.

“So, for a city, it might mean they would need less power to run their treatment plants or their other facilities because they can actually use that biogas as energy,” said Dr. Francis de los Reyes. He and his team are working to turn the tons of waste produced every day and into energy.

“In the US, for example, in terms of food waste, the numbers are staggering. About 40 percent of food is wasted from the farm to the fork,” said de los Reyes.

There is also the grease that restaurants produce that is pumped out and hauled away rather sent into the sewage system. De los Reyes and his team are working to find out how adding that food and grease waste into what’s already being treated at a wastewater treatment plant can produce more methane.

Enough methane can produce clean and cheaper energy.

“A lot of facilities, a lot of utilities — Raleigh for example, they have anaerobic digesters. These digesters treat the solids from the water treatment process,” de los Reyes said. “If facilities have the capacity, the question was, ‘Can we add some of these food wastes (or) some of this grease waste into these digesters and boost the energy production, therefore the methane production.”

He sees this as a global opportunity.

“Where we basically say, ‘OK, we can reuse this. We can help in terms of climate change. We can create energy. We can spur development. We can make things more cost-effective by just thinking about it not as waste, but as something we can use as a resource,'” said de los Reyes.

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