Harvest Power Rebuilds Topsoil And Produces Energy With The Process

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Harvest Power anaerobic digesting plant in Orlando, Florida

The people from Harvest Power believe solutions to our planet’s energy and pollution problems must be addressed first at a grass roots level, “where people and organizations can work together in a climate of mutual responsibility and trust.”

This company, founded in 2009, and with operations now spread through the United States and Canada, appears to be taking this philosophy to heart in how it regards over 500 million tons of organic waste that are produced each year in North America.

Harvest Power North American operations

Harvest Power’s nearly 450 employees refer to their sustainable methodologies as the ‘Power-of-We’: “It’s a simple concept – we are part of a larger system, and if we all recognize this, and participate to the best of our abilities, the system will get better.”

Facing global issues of soil degradation, along with a growing demand for food and clean energy that is staggering, Founder Paul Sellew shares how he views organic waste and managing it as an asset. He simplifies Harvest Power’s approach to waste management and anaerobic digestion, likening it to the process that takes place in a cow’s stomach.

“People call that biomimicry,” says Sellew, “which is taking a natural process that’s evolved over millions of years, and we apply modern engineering to that: natural microbes break down organic materials and turn it into biogas.”

Add vast quantities of compost to this list, a natural formula for reviving thinning topsoils.

The company’s huge anaerobic digester in Orlando, Florida  is considered to be one of the most innovative anaerobic digestion projects of its kind in North America. The facility provides waste management through its specially engineered design to co-digest biosolids with food wastes from local resorts, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, sports arenas, golf courses and the food processing community.  Some waste from Disney World is brought to the facility, including the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels at Grande Lakes Orlando.

Organic food waste in Orlando, Florida

The Florida facility has a capacity of 130,000 tons per year with 5.4MW combined heat-and-power output. This is a significant amount of clean energy being produced.

In Vancouver, Canada goals of environmental management and sustainability are being tackled. According to the Harvest Power website, these issues are being addressed:

  • Landfills have become more expensive, more distant, and are filling to capacity with waste that future generations will have to handle
  • The Zero Waste Challenge has set landfill diversion goals that cannot be me using only current recycling and diversion strategies
  • Communities are seeking sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels
  • Farms, gardens, nurseries and stormwater control projects demand high-quality, nutrient-rich soil and compost products
  • Both Metro Vancouver and British Columbia have set aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Harvest reports it currently manages over 2 million tons of organic material through 30 operating sites in North America. In addition, the company produces nearly 65,000 megawatt-hours per year of heat and power generating capacity and sells nearly 33 million bags of soil, mulch and fertilizer products to agricultural producers and landscapers annually.

Harvest has targeted creating a more sustainable future through helping communities it operates with to better manage and beneficially re-use their organic waste.

Considering some 500 million tons of organic materials are produced in North America each year, while landfill availability declines, Harvest Power has what appears to be a timely and very beneficial business model. To support this model, the company has a management team with extensive experience in composting, renewable energy, supply chain management, engineering, law and finance.

Put another way, here lie the foundation blocks for a leading waste and energy solutions business launched in this century.

Photo credits via Harvest Power.

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

Glenn Meyers has 449 posts and counting. See all posts by Glenn Meyers

18 thoughts on “Harvest Power Rebuilds Topsoil And Produces Energy With The Process

  • Better yet, to have sustainable food production, complete the circle by plowing back your poop and pee into the soil instead of flushing them into the oceans and wasting too much water.

    • The direct use of human excrement as fertilizer has been abandoned for health reasons: fecal pathogens can easily enter into the food stream. Most countries have long banned the practice because it was responsible for the spread of intestinal parasites, bacterial infections and other unpleasant health hazards.

      Anaerobic digestion is an excellent alternative and is widely practiced at water treatment facilities. You lose some nutrients, but I’d rather have a decent disease-free soil conditioner than a disease ridden top grade fertilizer.

      Collecting urine is much less dangerous and is a potentially low cost source of fast-working fertilizer, but current sewage systems just aren’t set up to do so. Urine is great, but not so amazing that it warrants a full redesign of western sewers.

      • Good comments you make! Thanks.

      • I think MarTams has a point here. There are more fecal matter and urine than food wastes. They must be combined and then anaerobically digested to extract energy before recycling back into the soil. We can’t afford to waste the energy from our inefficient digestive system, we can still use them, after all, they are captured from solar.

        As to the direct use of fecal matter, I think you are being more paranoid than necessary! Before there was a so called human civilization, when we were hunter and gatherers, the fecal matter was nicely spread out, not concentrated enough to become health hazard, as the populations are spread out also, and there was a sustainable balance until humans learned to do agriculture. That’s when everything changes and humans have dense settlements.

        And yes, many organic farms today use fresh manure, not composted nor anaerobically digested, and it has good results in terms of crop yield and there were no significant difference when it comes to E. Coli or coliform counts than those that uses composted manure. The key is how to use the fresh manure over the soil. UC Davis in fact has made several experiments dealing with using fresh manure. They should be able to pinpoint when contamination become significant to pose health hazard.

        The USDA approved the use of fresh manure for organic farms while the FDA recommended against it because of possible health hazards. To resolve investigation in the field using real science was conducted. Read on the article of more than two years ago:


        • Fresh manure from properly raised and fed farm animals is indeed largely safe. I’m surprised that it ever was illegal in the US.

          Coliforms have a very short residence time in a healthy, stable soil due to its innate biostasis. However, those aren’t the only concern – many parasites can survive for a very long time even in healthy soil ecosystems. While transmission between animal and human is rarely possible, transmission between humans is likely.

          And of course, soils that have been upset by excessive nitrogen inputs and improper crop planning (the majority of soils, in other words) lose much of their homeostasis. Rapid elimination of coliforms is no longer guaranteed in that case.

          We directly used human manure for centuries, but it was always a tradeoff. The end of the use of night soil coincided with a sharp drop in the rate of intestinal parasites, for good reason.

          Besides, it seems silly not to send the excrement through an anaerobic digester first. The limited loss of nitrogen seems an acceptable trade-off for a lot of energy and improved public health.

          • “Fresh manure from properly raised and fed farm animals is indeed largely safe. I’m surprised that it ever was illegal in the US.”
            Have you seen any of these Pig or Chicken factories?

          • There are different rules for animal fecal matter (normally called manure) and human fecal matter. Manure has/is spread on fields in US. We do have a problem at large industrial feed yards, poultry, and pig farms of too much of a good thing. It is human fecal matter that has restrictions on it, and IMHO should. But anaerobic digester is a great way to pre-process human waste. The output of NRG and a safe soil enricher.

        • “fresh manure” reminds me of my Dad’s tomato plants.
          Where I grew up in south Texas, we have sandy loam soil.

      • I completely agree.

  • Good idea. Couple with biochar for more comprehensive soil services.

  • And then again, this is just one of the many projects that the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) have been done, and CleanTechnica has never featured SMUD and their projects. SMUD is the number 1 utility in the whole USA when it comes to implementation of renewable and clean energy. Is it because they are non profit? They happen to have the number 1 ratepayer satisfaction in the nation.

    Here’s an actual digester built in Sacramento that processes 100 tons/day of food wastes and the product is electricity and organic fertilizer.


    • Why don’t you message Zach about that? They can’t possibly find everything on their own.

      • I’ve been wanting to but I don’t have his secret email address. I’m not the spammer kind that would hawk trinkets and what nots, only my passion for renewables and their related technologies.

          • Tried that, no reply…
            Tried that, no reply…
            Maybe a dozen more times… no reply.
            So I know when to stop.

  • Hi Glenn, Great article. A quick clarification: Paul Sellew is Harvest Power’s Founder, and was its CEO for many years (such as when that video was filmed). Kathleen Ligocki is Harvest Power’s current CEO. Thanks for sharing our story!

  • I’d have to say we manage our poo fairly well here in Australia. In Adelaide the methane produced from biodigesters is only used to run the water treatment plant itself, but it would be technically possible to use solar thermal and perhaps “excess” wind and solar electricity for warming the biodigesters and save the methane for peak generation during the evening or for other uses. It probably wouldn’t be economically feasible, particularly with our low wholesale electricity prices, but maybe something could be done with a new poo plant that was built from the ground up.

    Currently we reclaim about a quarter of the water in our sewage. The biosludge that is left over after treatment is given away for free to farmers, they just have to pick it up themselves.

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