A University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington) environmental engineering professor is helping the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) determine how much more energy can be generated by diverting food waste from landfills to anaerobic digesters.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) recently awarded NCTCOG $300,000 (€252,000) to help reduce food waste.
Melanie Sattler, professor in the Civil Engineering Department, is leading the UT Arlington effort. “22% of our waste stream is food waste,” said Sattler. “It breaks down in landfills and produces methane, which can be used for alternative energy.
“But often, the active part of the landfill doesn’t have a cover for two years. A lot of the gas escapes. The alternative to capture more of the gas from food waste is to use an anaerobic digester.”
According to UT Arlington, there are eight wastewater treatment plants with digesters around the North Texas region. Sattler said sending the food waste to these existing or new digesters would produce a better yield of biogas production.
Mike Eastland, NCTCOG executive director, said: “Reducing food waste and maintaining adequate landfill capacity for a growing region are regional goals in the North Central Texas region.
“With this award, our agency will be partnering with UT Arlington and our member governments to assess the amount of food waste in the region that could be used as feedstock to support the development of future anaerobic digestion infrastructure and renewable energy projects in the region.
“The resultant North Central Texas Food Waste to Fuel Feasibility Study will be a step forward in assessing regional opportunities to divert food waste, and other organics, from landfills to preserve landfill capacity while increasing regional renewable energy production and reducing vehicle emissions.”
According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, North Central Texas has 36 cumulative years of reserve landfill capacity – with the region gaining around one million near residents every 10 years. Reducing, recovering, and diverting as many items as possible from the waste stream will be ‘critical’ to expanding landfill capacity, according to UT Arlington.
“Methane is a greenhouse gas and is more potent than carbon dioxide,” added Sattler. “Capturing more of that gas is important to the environment.
“Post-consumer food waste from restaurants, which cannot be fed to hungry people, could be used to generate renewable energy in digesters.”