From Food to Power in Pittsburgh: A Financial and Policy Analysis of Industrial Food Waste as an Anaerobic Digester Feedstock

Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is a process under which microorganisms break down organic matter to create biogas. Biogas, composed of 60% methane and 40% carbon dioxide, can be used to generate electricity, heat, or compressed for vehicle fuel. This process prevents methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas with roughly 23-34 times more heating potential than carbon dioxide, through the decomposition process. AD technology is widely implemented in Pennsylvania in agricultural and wastewater treatment plants because livestock manure and crop residuals serve as high energy value feedstocks. However, food waste is not commonly used as a primary feedstock in Pennsylvania AD facilities despite its high energy content and quantity. Pittsburgh, PA has identified AD as an important technology to help the city achieve its goals of an 80% reduction of 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 and a diversion of 90% of organic waste from landfills by 2030, as laid out by its 2017 Climate Action Plan. This feasibility study identifies sources of post-consumer industrial food waste and the financial and logistical challenges in the collection of these wastes in an urban setting. Policy incentives and barriers to collection within the city were also determined. Using case studies of AD in other cities, it was found that stricter policies which regulate organic waste streams can divert food waste from landfills. Transportation infrastructure works best when privatized, with the largest diversion incentive being if waste haulers offer lower tipping fees than landfill haulers. The cost of transportation to an AD is fairly comparable to the cost of hauling to a landfill, but businesses must be willing to make an initial investment in technology needed to salvage food waste for renewable energy production. Ultimately, Pittsburgh can use food waste as a feedstock for an AD to meet its climate action plan goals.

Monday Poster Session
Allison Saunders
Related Conference Themes
Electricity Generation