One of the biggest anaerobic digesters in the region is scheduled to be built on Long Island, the state announced today.
The digester, essentially a giant set of eight tanks hooked up by pipes to a 90,000 square foot warehouse, will be capable of converting roughly 160,000 tons of organic waste into natural gas, diverting the waste material from landfills.
“This first-of-its kind project for Long Island and the greater New York metropolitan area will build upon this administration’s commitment to expand the state’s use of renewable energy and reduce our carbon footprint," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.
The $40 million project, built and operated by the New York-based waste management company American Organic Energy, is expected to be up and running by 2016. The project received a $1.3 million grant from the state through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a cap-and-trade program in northeastern states that New York has tapped for numerous clean energy projects.
"This is a game-changer," said Charles Vigliotti, president and CEO of American Organic Energy, in an interview. "We're going for the gold standard in how you process food waste in a civilized world."
Vigliotti declined to say how much business the facility is expected to do annually but said he is in talks with restaurants, supermarkets and others to begin processing their food waste.
"We've certainly identified potential income sources for us," Vigliotti said. "We're not at all concerned with our ability to fill up this plant. There's more than enough food waste on Long Island."
Vigliotti also said he was in talks with New York City to process some of the organic waste coming from the city as the Department of Sanitation seeks ways to divert as much as 100,000 tons of organic waste from landfills.
The project, as described, stands out both for its scale and its processing capabilities.
While digester facilities like the one at Newtown Creek in Brooklyn have begun processing food waste and converting it into gas, the Brooklyn plant is handling only 500 tons a year.
Vigliotti said the Long Island plant will also be able to separate food waste, oil and fats and yard waste from contaminants — the industry term for non-organic waste like bags, cans and other containers. That separation has been cited as a major challenge in processing organic waste.
"We'll separate the tuna from the can and recycle the tuna and recycle the can," he said.
The gas produced by the site will first be used to power the facility itself. Then gas will be converted to power the vehicles delivering the waste to the facility. Finally, the remaining gas will be converted to pipeline quality natural gas that will be put back onto the grid.
Organic waste has become a major focus of sanitation leaders as it produces methane when sent to landfills, a greenhouse gas considered 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 100 years. The state said Tuesday that the facility will cut 40,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
The sludge left over from gas production will be converted to fertilizer through a partnership with General Electric and Scotts Miracle-Gro, Vigliotti said.