Member Blog: Vanguard Renewables on Turning Waste into Renewable Energy
Every one of us inevitably produces waste in our company’s operations; no matter how sustainable our practices are. The most sustainable craft brewers have organic waste and spent grains at the bottom of their brew tanks and kettles after brewing a new batch. Switching production to a different ice cream or cream cheese flavor requires some wash water. What happens to that waste after it’s produced determines whether it really is in fact, waste.
In 2018, 63 million tons of food waste were generated in the United States. About 30% of food in the U.S. is not even consumed, contributing to the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) like methane and carbon dioxide. Alternative solutions such as waste incineration alleviate physical food waste but simultaneously create and release dangerous greenhouse gases. Anaerobic codigestion, the process of combining food and farm waste to create biogas, has become a much more popular solution because of how beneficial the process is for repurposing organic waste and creating renewable energy.
VBSR members Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery, and Shacksbury Cider have partnered with Vanguard Renewables to recycle their organic waste into renewable natural gas at Vanguard’s anaerobic digester site at the Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury. But how does it work? What makes Vanguard’s process more sustainable than other waste recycling solutions? And how can other companies work to turn waste into renewable energy?
What is an Anaerobic Digester?
It’s biomimicry. Think of it like a giant cow’s stomach made of concrete and steel with an inflatable elastic membrane. Anaerobic digesters are large systems with technology to harness biogas. The gut flora from the cows — the bacteria — that are present in manure consume and digest food waste and break down the organic material. This process creates 2 products: biogas and liquid digestate (nutrient-rich, organic material that can no longer produce gas). The captured biogas is then converted into carbon negative, renewable natural gas (RNG). Converting biogas into RNG happens on-site at the biogas upgrader. The RNG produced on the site then enters the Vermont Gas pipeline to be used as thermal fuel by Middlebury College and VGS customers.
What are the Benefits of On-farm Anaerobic Digestion?
RNG has a positive impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from manure and food waste that otherwise would leak into the atmosphere. RNG from anaerobic digestion yields a better greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction compared to wind or solar. Codigestion not only sequesters methane that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, RNG also displaces thermal fuels that would otherwise come from fossil sources. Whereas solar and wind have a carbon intensity score of 0, RNG has a negative carbon intensity.
The process of anaerobic digestion also creates useful byproducts. Very little goes to waste. Dry fibers, for example, are separated from the manure before it enters the anaerobic digester and are used as natural animal bedding for the farm’s cows. The remaining liquid digestate is used as nutrient-rich, low-carbon fertilizer available to the farm. Furthermore, Vanguard’s advanced phosphorus management system removes up to 80% of the phosphorus from the digestate before it is pumped to the farm’s storage tanks. Too much phosphorus is harmful for Vermont’s soils and watersheds if improperly managed.
How can your company get involved?
Getting involved is as easy as contacting me. I work directly with commercial food and beverage companies to ensure their waste is repurposed in the most sustainable, regenerative ways possible. See below for my contact info, a recap on anaerobic digestion, and some of the VBSR members I work with.
Recycling inedible food and beverage waste through anaerobic digestion is an effective, efficient way for Vermont’s businesses and institutions to become environmental champions. As a renewable energy and sustainable solutions company, Vanguard Renewables partners with VBSR members to achieve our shared vision of achieving net-zero emissions and zero waste in food and beverage production.
Cabot Creamery, a Certified B Corporation, is working to source renewable energy for its creameries and improve regenerative agricultural practices. Ben &Jerry’s is also a Certified B Corporation with vast sustainable goals. They aim to have 100% of their packaging be reusable, compostable, or recyclable by 2025. They have invested in making efficient and sustainable manufacturing facilities, shop locations, and supply chains to reduce their carbon footprint and improve energy efficiency. Vanguard has provided an outlet for their dairy waste products to be repurposed. Shacksbury Cider sources sustainably and locally grown apples for their naturally fermented ciders.
By recycling its expired cider products and manufacturing waste into renewable energy with Vanguard Renewables, Shacksbury has significantly reduced its carbon footprint. Tackling America’s food waste problem requires a cooperative effort. Together, food and beverage manufacturers can work with Vanguard Renewables to continue alleviating food waste’s impact on global emissions and support companies and communities to reach their sustainability goals.
Vermont Organics Market Manager, Vanguard Renewables
Billy Connelly is Vanguard Renewables’ Vermont Organics Market Manager. He develops partnerships with leading food and beverage manufacturers, institutions, and other high-volume organizations to recycle their waste into renewable energy at the company’s new anaerobic digester in Salisbury. He is passionate about making a difference for his local community and globally by being a part of the climate change solution. He is a longtime Vermont resident and a lifelong New Englander. He began his career in the recycling industry and has held senior-level positions for socially responsible business in renewable energy, carbon offsets, and sustainable travel. He was one of the first 100 people trained by Al Gore and The Climate Reality Project. Billy’s family lives in Middlebury.