FREMONT, MIch. – - When I first heard about the Fremont Community Digester, I wondered why would a story about a newspaper be interesting. To my surprise, it had nothing to do with journalism or newspapers at all.
The Fremont Community Digester is the only one of its kind in the United States. They take in more than 300 tons and more than 40 different types of food waste each day from major companies like Gerber and McDonald’s. The waste is placed in to one million gallon digesters or tanks for a 22-day period, then the heat is turned up to multiply and accelerate the bacteria. It eventually produces what’s known as bio-gas.
Food processing waste like carrots, blueberries, apples, and many others are used in the process that would have normally sent them to a landfill. Bio-digestion has actually been around since the Roman times (almost like a compost), but it hasn’t been until now that many different types of waste can be used to produce bio-gas.
The end product of the Fremont facility that went in to commercial production in December is not bio-gas. That gas is placed in to huge generators that convert it to electricity that can be put back on the grid or sold to the power company. In fact, the Fremont Community Digester produces enough electricity to actually power the city of Fremont. Even the cardboard and plastic that enter the facility get completely recycled and zero waste goes to the landfill. It certainly seems to be the epitome of “going green” in a day and age when everyone is concerned about being environmentally friendly and global warming.
In addition to the three mega-watts of electricity the plant produces on a daily basis, more than 100 tons of both liquid and solid fertilizer are produced. It’s usually sold back to local farmers which means less dependency on foreign fertilizer from places like Russia and Europe.
The 22 million dollar plant is also capable of reducing 75,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Several companies have already expressed interest in this technology across the United States, so the potential to grow the technology and business is certainly there. That said, this type of state-of-the-art technology has been successful in Europe and Asia for decades.
The entire idea for the digester actually came from Gerber (a major Fremont company and employer) trying to find ways to control their waste. So this facility is not just a local solution to waste problems, but one that can be offered to any company, anywhere that needs to control food waste.
According to Rob Zeldenrust, the Vice President of Business Development for the Fremont Community Digester, “we also produce a significant amount of hot water just on how we control the temperature in our bio-digesters. We’re going to make a hot water loop through the industrial park so we can co-locate with other companies where they benefit off of the transfer of energy just from our waste water.”