More businesses in Connecticut next year will fall under a 6-year-old law that requires the recycling of food waste at an authorized organic waste recycling facility. In theory, that should give a boost to the state’s only food waste-to-energy plant, Quantum Biopower, which opened in 2016.
But the plant’s vice president, Brian Paganini, is not expecting more than a slight uptick in the number of truckloads of rotting foodstuffs rumbling up to the plant’s reception bays come 2020. Enforcement of the existing law is minimal, he said. And the concept, still foreign to many, has been slow to catch on.
What would really supercharge the plant’s energy generation, Paganini said, is unlocking the residential side of the waste stream, supply that has so far gone untapped. “It comes down to the cost for collection,” he said. “No one has figured out how to make that work yet.”
Located in Southington, Quantum uses an anaerobic digestion process to generate about 1.2 megawatts of electricity annually, offsetting an estimated 5,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The food waste is fermented in an enormous, oxygen-free tank that Paganini refers to as “a giant steel stomach.” The process produces a methane-rich biogas, which is used to generate electricity. The leftover material is used to make compost.
About 20% of the power generated is used on-site. The town of Southington purchases the rest through a virtual net metering program, Paganini said. Companies pay Quantum a disposal fee to recycle their food waste, which Paganini said is typically cheaper than sending it to an incinerator. About a quarter of the 40,000 tons of waste Quantum takes in every year comes from Connecticut businesses captured under the recycling law, as well as a growing number of university dining halls. Most of the rest is from large food manufacturers throughout the Northeast.