Innovative Ag Colorado seeks to generate power from food waste on Steamboat farm
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS —Mark Berkley’s cobbled together solutions typically come in the form of a bolted, odds-and-end contraption to make operations easier on the mushroom, microgreen and edible flower farm he founded in Steamboat Springs.
Much of his urban farm, Innovative Ag Colorado, is insulated in modified shipping trailers — sold to him by shipping companies that had little use for refrigerated trailers with broken refrigeration units.
The steps he uses to get inside these trailers are made of pallets, and inside one of them is a mixer made of components of his son’s bike that was run over. The farm’s offices are decommissioned buildings from a Colorado Department of Transportation weigh station.
Despite his resourcefulness, building a generator fueled by food waste and powerful enough to energize Innovative Ag’s entire operation is beyond his expertise.
Berkley, along with his Innovative Ag business partner Alex King, has started a new business endeavor, Innovative Regeneration Colorado. As early as January 2019, Berkley and King hope to start a pilot program collecting food waste and processing it through a combination composter and generator to create energy and compost fertilizer. If the pilot is successful, Berkley hopes to expand.
“We keep hearing about the need for organic diversion. ‘We want organic diversion,’” Berkley told a group of people touring the farm as part of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council‘s annual Sustainable Garden Tour. “Well, we’re jumping on this, but we’re going to need some help.”
To accomplish their plan, the pair seeks to raise $125,000 via a GoFundMe page to cover start-up costs and the purchase of an organic waste recycling system, called a HORSE.
“It’s a big price tag at $125,000, but I think we have a big enough community, and we have a community that’s supportive enough and apparently wants to do something about organic waste, and this is really the tip of the iceberg,” Berkley said.
The generator is fueled by methane gas produced by composted food waste and other organic materials. Currently, there is not a large-scale program to dispose of food waste in the Yampa Valley, meaning that much of that waste ends up in a landfill.
Twin Enviro accepts organic materials and produces compost, but it largely processes waste from the Steamboat Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant.
In a landfill, as bacteria multiply and break down waste, they generate methane gas — a greenhouse gas that traps the sun’s heat at a rate about 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. The HORSE also produces methane, but that gas is captured and piped via a hose into the generator. The generator uses the methane to fuel a combustion engine that generates energy.
The machine can consume more than 135 pounds of food waste a day. Berkley said there are only six other machines like this model in use in the United States. He anticipates it would produce enough energy to power the farm “and then some.”
The compost would be available to the public, though Berkley is working out the details of how it would be given or sold to the community.
“We could possibly make a massive transition,” Berkley said. “At one point in time, we were heating with whale oil and God knows what else. Now, we could be utilizing food waste. I mean it’s like the ultimate renewable energy because we’re going full circle.”
Berkley is still not sure what the logistics of collecting what could be more than 700 pounds of food waste a week will look like — whether that means accepting waste at the site, setting up drop-off points for compostable matter around town or some other idea that he hasn’t come up with yet.
“There are details,” he said. “But nothing that can’t be overcome.”
Innovative Regeneration already has a pilot program operating in the form of a smaller food waste-to-energy system that powers the farm’s steamed pasteurizers, which are used to ensure the material his mushrooms grow in is not contaminated by other organisms.
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