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Turning Tons of Food into Energy


American River Packaging in the Sacramento, CA area will soon begin using an anaerobic digestion system to convert 7.5 tons of daily food waste into 1,300 kWh of renewable energy per day. About 37% of the company’s electricity will be generated by the waste-to-energy technology. Converting the large amounts of food waste will also divert about 2,900 tons of waste from landfills each year.

Bacteria are used in anaerobic digestion to break down biodegradable waste into energy in the form of biogas. Components of this fuel source are methane, carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen. Other useful byproducts are compost, water, and natural fertilizer.

Anaerobic digestion begins when a group of microorganisms converts organic material, so other organisms can form organic acids. Then anaerobic bacteria utilize these acids, so the decomposition process can be completed.

The anaerobic digestion system being used at American River Packaging is the result of ten years of research by Ruihong Zhang, a UC Davis professor of biological and agricultural engineering. Her technology has been licensed by the start-up Clean World Partners. They focus on providing waste management systems employing anaerobic digestion to help generate energy and to attempt to divert some of the millions of tons of organic matter currently going into landfills.

“I applaud Professor Zhang for this tremendous accomplishment,” said UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. “Scientists like Professor Zhang are helping UC Davis address the most pressing global problems of our time. Her work brings us a giant step closer to the sustainable future we all hope for.”

Image Credit: Volker Thies (Asdrubal), Wiki Commons

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