Elizabethtown College, located in southeastern Pennsylvania, has partnered with Somat Company of Lancaster, PA, and Mount Joy, PA farmer Mike Brubaker to turn food waste from the College’s dining facilities into electricity on Brubaker’s farm. Launched in Fall 2009, the project has reduced water consumption by approximately 80% and cut waste hauling charges in half for the College’s Marketplace Dining Facility.
Founded in 1899, Elizabethtown College is a private, residential co-ed college of 1,900 students pursuing degrees in liberal arts, fine and performing arts, science and engineering, business, communications, and education.
Search For Ways To Repurpose Waste
The project resulted from the marriage of two sustainability efforts at the College. For some time, Joe Metro, director of facilities management and construction and Mike Brubaker had been exploring the possibility of using the College’s organic waste to create electricity. Separately, director of dining services Eric Turzai had been contacted by the Somat Company in fall 2009 about the possibility of field testing a new waste pulping system that would reduce the volume of organic material and allow for reduced water consumption in the College’s Marketplace eatery.
While various colleges and universities around the nation have pursued composting their organic materials as a means to reduce waste and limit their impact on the environment, few nationwide are using the resulting material to create electricity. And none have combined these projects with a system that reuses water. By marrying these sustainability efforts, Elizabethtown College and its partners have created a workable system that is producing enough power for about 200 homes and significantly cutting water consumption and waste at Elizabethtown.
According to Metro, this effort is part of the College’s long-term commitment to protecting the environment. “For many years Elizabethtown College has taken a proactive approach to the efficient use of water, natural gas, fuel oil, and electricity and in the reduction of the sanitary waste and solid waste we generate,” he says. “This project is just one example of our sustainability efforts.”
In the process, food waste is carefully sorted by Elizabethtown’s Dining Services team, ground up and then piped to the Somat Company extractor, which “dewaters” the organic material. The solids and the waste water are packaged separately for transportation twice a week to the Brubaker farm, which is located less than 10 miles away.
At the farm, the organic material and waste water are mixed with cow manure and fed into a digester. In the digester, the organic material catalyzes the production of methane gas from the cow manure. The methane is then harvested and used to power an engine/generator, which creates electricity. The residual wastes, which have been sterilized by the microbial process in the digester, are used for bedding and fertilizer at the farm.
The Elizabethtown College system recycles the water used during the pulping process, which totals 4,400 gallons per week. Additionally, none of the byproducts of the pulping process—either liquid or solids—enter the sanitary sewer system on the campus. The recycled water is used again as gray water and collected at a daily shutdown time to be transported twice a week to Brubaker Farms.
Since implementing the system, Elizabethtown College has experienced lower costs associated with water consumption and waste hauling. Mike Brubaker is creating electricity that he can sell back to the electric company. And, Somat Company is gaining operational experience with the waste pulping system equipment.