by John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng
A successful business has management and staff that constantly look for ways to make money and ways to save money. When it comes to managing organic waste generated by a business, ways of saving money may, in the near future, flip into ways of making money.
In most jurisdictions, organic waste is separated from other wastes for further treatment. To date, there are some organizations that have opted to treat their organic waste on-site. There are pros and cons to this option. The pros include the ability to control costs through the management of one’s own waste, the potential benefit of energy generation, and the utilization of the compost or anaerobic digestate. The cons include dealing with odour issues, space restrictions, and the need for specialized staff to operate the treatment system.
Many organizations that opt to manage organic waste on-site choose aerobic composting due to its low maintenance and capital costs. However, these organization may be losing out on a possible revenue stream if they do not consider anaerobic digestion.
Located near the Town of Newcastle, Ontario Algoma Orchards is a family-run company that specializes in growing apples and producing apple cider and other juices. They have been in business since 1964.
Algoma Orchards has a fully integrated production facility that packages annually over 36 million kilograms of apples for wholesale, presses nearly 9 million litres of juice, and produces a variety of prepared products such as baked goods and gourmet foods. The facility has 125 full-time employees and up to 180 seasonal workers.
Algoma generates several thousand tonnes of organic waste per year. Today the company has a cost associated with the disposal of the organic waste (pomace, unsuitable for use) generated at their facility. Consistent with the operating vision and sustainable thinking in the business, Algoma partnered with CCI BioEnergy Inc. (CCI) to consider new organics management options with an objective to maximize the value of their wasted organics.
Fortunately for Algoma Orchards, a potential solution for converting their organics into higher value uses was just down the road. CCI, a Canadian-based company specializing in the design, build and operation of anaerobic digestion (AD) systems has its head office a short 5 minute drive down the road.
CCI is most known in Canada and the USA for designing, building and operating the two AD facilities that have processed more than 650,000 tonnes of the City of Toronto’s residential curbside collected, source separated organics (also known as the Green Bin Program) since the fall of 2002. The solution needed for Algoma Orchards would be on a much smaller scale.
Algoma Orchards and CCI are currently working together on a trial of a new micro AD system first used in the UK and brought to North America by CCI.
What attracted Algoma Orchards to the technology was its simplicity of design and ease of operation. The system was originally architected and built by a UK based company, Qube Renewables, to meet the waste and sewage treatment needs of British troops at remote sites and forward operating bases. The design criteria demanded by the British military was that the system needed to be robust, transportable, rugged, and easy to operate.
How the System Works
The system installed at Algoma Orchards has the core features of a typical AD system with unique features that make it robust and easy to operate. Using re=purposed shipping containers, the system has a flexible architecture to integrate the needed systems to build a client solution, including biogas utilization systems. Small-scale combined heat & power (CHP) is available beginning in the 3.5kW capacity and upgrading systems for renewable natural gas that convert as little as 10 cubic metres of biogas per hour.
Algoma is already seeing the benefits of the on-site AD approach, as have the other generators of the different feedstock types being tested at the Algoma site. For Algoma, and any user, the business case includes the current management practice savings, the internal energy use off-sets, saleable carbon footprint reduction credits, the digestate value as a soil amendment/fertilizer, satisfying their customer expectations to reduce their carbon footprint, the accelerated depreciation available for renewable energy projects, and the value accrued against their corporate sustainability objectives.
The AD system is also a logical extension of their unique, on-site aerobic waste water treatment system supplied by the Altech Group based in Toronto. The wastewater system consists of a membrane bioreactor that captures and reclaims all the water used in the facility – a key given the rural located plant has no access to municipal water or sewage services. Although the trial is yet to be completed, the payback on the system is estimated to be less than five years.
As for the traditional drawbacks to implementing an AD system, Algoma has yet to experience major process upsets or odour issues, which also are likely not an issue due to the consistency and mix of the feedstock supply.
For Algoma Orchards the future has arrived. The company has on-site treatment solutions for its organic waste and wastewater that together deliver significant cost benefits and environmental attributes that are critical to their operating vision and success. To many, organic waste and wastewater is seen as an environmental problem. At Algoma, it looks like the company has turned these liabilities into opportunities.