Things are getting very exciting down at The Plant (the green-tech incubator space in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood on Chicago's south side), as a key part of their envisioned "closed loop" environmental system, a massive Anaerobic Digester is almost ready to go online. Here's their Flickr page with pictures of this being set up!
What is an Anaerobic Digester, you ask? Well, here's what the American Biogas Council has to say about it:
Anaerobic digestion is a series of biological processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. One of the end products is biogas, which is combusted to generate electricity and heat, or can be processed into renewable natural gas and transportation fuels. A range of anaerobic digestion technologies are converting livestock manure, municipal wastewater solids, food waste, high strength industrial wastewater and residuals, fats, oils and grease (FOG), and various other organic waste streams into biogas, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Separated digested solids can be composted, utilized for dairy bedding, directly applied to cropland or converted into other products. Nutrients in the liquid stream are used in agriculture as fertilizer.
While The Plant has been in operation for a couple of years, it's still developing towards a vision of a completely self-sustained facility. As you can see from their diagram here (click on that for a much larger version), the Digester is a central element:
The Plant is working with the Eisenmann company to build this, and they have a fairly detailed document about the project, including these bits:
Local grants and the new zoning codes have resulted in the city’s first urban vertical farm, which is currently being developed in south Chicago. The project, known as The Plant, operates as both a non-profit and for-profit organization offering a vertical farm in a food desert and a food-business incubator in a distressed neighborhood. The organization will also focus on research and education but the most ambitious part of the entire thing is the renewable energy system that will make the building net-zero energy and completely self-sustaining.
As part of the renewable energy system, The Plant will be using an anaerobic digester combined with a combined heat and power (CHP) unit. This system will convert
organic waste into biogas which will be released to the CHP to supply the building with heat and electricity.
Funded in part by grant money from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the anaerobic digester will be installed behind the building. The system will consume 13 tons of food waste a day (roughly 5,000 tons annually). The waste will include all of the waste produced at The Plant as well as by neighboring food manufacturers.
The digester will produce 2.2 million Btu per hour of biogas, which will be captured and burned in the CHP to produce 200kwH of electricity. This will also produce
enough process heat needed by the brewery operations and to regulate the building’s temperature.
As we feel we need to remind folks, when talking about The Plant in the Green Tech Chicago blog, the authors are tenants there, with our "urban vermiculture" biz, so this is something that we're quite interested in. Once the Digester is up, and a few more pieces get put in place (they're still waiting on a brewery and a cheese maker!), things will hopefully start looking (and working) like that chart up there.
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