In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that only 32% of wasted food generated that year in the U.S. in the commercial, institutional, and residential sectors was managed for animal feed, bio-based materials/biochemical processing, co-digestion/anaerobic digestion, composting, donation, land application, and sewer/wastewater treatment. Leyline Renewable Capital, a leading provider of debt and equity capital for renewable energy development and construction, is working to help increase that percentage, particularly among food and beverage manufacturers. It's an industry where some of the most well-known players acknowledge that their manufacturing processes and supply chain leave behind a significant carbon footprint and other environmental repercussions. They also recognize that the resulting impact is substantial, both for the companies involved and for their surrounding communities.
The state of Vermont is a national leader in addressing this problem. The state is a significant producer of dairy waste in large part due to an abundance of dairy farms and creameries, including the world-famous Ben & Jerry's, which is no stranger to the challenges faced by the local dairy industry. When the company sought to face these challenges head on, it partnered with PurposeEnergy, a developer that designs and operates industrial wastewater treatment systems that convert organic residuals into renewable energy and clean water, to develop "The SAINT," a waste-to-energy project in St. Albans, Vermont, home to the ice cream maker's Vermont manufacturing facility. Together, the partners are developing a solution that will benefit St. Albans area companies and residents, while laying the groundwork for similar projects in other communities.
According to Ben & Jerry's, each pint of its ice cream produces roughly 3.3 pounds of greenhouse gases, some of it from high-strength dairy waste that is too concentrated to send to local wastewater treatment facilities. The company needed a sustainable, cost-effective solution that reduced trucking costs and the environmental impact of its waste. Recovering valuable nutrients, preventing phosphorus from entering the Lake Champlain watershed, and generating energy from their byproducts were important parallel goals.
PurposeEnergy and Leyline are facilitating that solution by developing The SAINT project adjacent to Ben & Jerry's St. Albans production site. The anaerobic pre-treatment plant will be connected to Ben & Jerry's by a buried pipe that will receive liquid byproducts for continuous treatment. Other area waste producers and haulers will deliver feedstock material to The SAINT by truck to maximize power output.
The project's primary objectives are to treat Ben & Jerry's and other locally generated food wastes, and to generate power by turning biogas into electricity. In fact, all biogas produced will be captured to power the onsite generator, which will produce up to 1 MW of continuous, renewable electricity - enough to power approximately 1,000 Vermont homes.
While all PurposeEnergy projects use its patented Tribrid-Bioreactor technology, each site has unique features and design differences driven by site constraints, projected waste flows, and local wastewater discharge requirements. Leyline is providing development-stage financing for The SAINT to fund detailed engineering plans, the permitting work required by state and local authorities, and associated legal and filing fees. Since the project will generate energy to feed the Vermont electrical grid, PurposeEnergy has also completed a third-party system impact study to ensure the local power grid has the capacity to distribute power from this new source of renewable electricity.
The expected benefits to Ben & Jerry's, other partnering businesses, the St. Albans community, and future waste-to-energy projects are numerous. For Ben & Jerry's, it offers a low-risk, permanent solution for treating high-strength dairy waste; reduces operating costs; and allows the company to reduce its supply chain greenhouse gas emissions .
The SAINT will also help other area businesses to dispose of their waste in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way that removes phosphorus - a pollutant that impacts the Lake Champlain watershed. Phosphorus runoff into local waterways is an important issue in St. Albans and other communities since phosphorus can cause algae blooms, reduce water clarity, create odor, and harm aquatic life. The SAINT project will break ground this year and is expected to begin processing ice cream waste in fall 2022.
- Erik Lensch is the founder and CEO of Leyline Renewable Capital.