Providing a detour for organic waste on its way to the landfill can bring a cornucopia to harvest.
That’s exactly what Paul Sellew set out to accomplish. A few years ago, he saw an extraordinary option in converting organic waste into a series of viable products. He opted to divert organic waste from what had been the standard waste stream approach that fed organic trash like leaves, grass, food and animal waste to landfills, and manufacture revenue-generating products. As a result, Sellew and Nathan Gilliland founded Harvest Power in 2008 and set up shop in Waltham, MA.
Now, little more than three years after launching, Harvest Power will generate almost $100 million in revenue from the products and services it provides. The product list includes soil, mulch, and fertilizer that have been derived from organic waste for replenishing the soil. Add methane to the list of products, a dangerous greenhouse gas that provides a sustainable clean energy source when properly managed.
“We are a business that manages organic materials,” Sellew says with a matter-of-fact tone. He is no stranger to the organics business. In 1982 he founded Earthgro, Inc., which became the second largest producer of compost-based lawn and garden products in North America.
Unlike his days at Earthgro, Harvest Power doesn’t just build large compost piles; it manages the organic waste it hauls by initially feeding it through an airtight anaerobic digestion facility. Here, microbes that exist without air begin to create a digestate that can generate methane gas, which in turn, can be used to generate fire and electricity.
“The great thing about anaerobic digestion,” observes Sellew, “is nutrients in, nutrients out. Anaerobic digestion is clearly the leading technology.”
This motion graphic on You Tube offers a very good explanation about how Harvest Power’s anaerobic digestion process functions.
While some large landfill operators – such as Waste Management – already operate waste-to-energy facilities that produce electricity and liquid natural gas, none to date have approached organics quite the way Harvest Power does, by removing valuable assets from the landfill instead of leaving them there.
The Harvest Power website offers this assessment about the organic waste stream it manages how it approaches the idea of sustainable solution: “By harnessing the carbon, energy, and nutrient value in organic materials, we provide sustainable solutions.”
We all need plenty more of these simple innovations that lead to sustainable solutions.
Photos: Harvest Power