Chew On This: Farmers Are Using Food Waste To Make Electricity

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

Chew On This: Farmers Are Using Food Waste To Make Electricity

Peter Melnik, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, owns Bar-Way Farm, Inc. in Deerfield, Mass. He has an anaerobic digester on his farm that converts food waste into renewable energy.

Allison Aubrey/NPR

This story was produced as part of a collaboration with the PBS NewsHour

As the season of big holiday meals kicks off, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on just how much food goes to waste.

If you piled up all the food that’s not eaten over the course of a year in the U.S., it would be enough to fill a skyscraper in Chicago about 44 times, according to an estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And, when all this food rots in a landfill, it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In fact, a recent report from the United Nations from a panel of climate experts estimates that up to 10 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions are linked to food waste.

So, here’s one solution to the problem: Dairy farmers in Massachusetts are using food waste to create electricity. They feed waste into anaerobic digesters, built and operated by Vanguard Renewables, which capture the methane emissions and make renewable energy.

The process begins by gathering wasted food from around the state, including from many Whole Foods locations. We visited the chain’s store in Shrewsbury, Mass., which has installed a Grind2Energy system. It’s an industrial-strength grinder that gobbles up all the scraps of food the store can’t sell, explains Karen Franczyk, who is the sustainability program manager for Whole Foods’ North Atlantic region.

The machine will grind up all kinds of food waste — “everything from bones, we put whole fish in here, to vegetables to dry items like rice or grains,” Franczyk says as the grinder is loaded. It also takes frying fats and greases.

Watch a video on farms turning food waste into renewable energy, in collaboration with PBS NewsHour.

YouTube

While Whole Foods donates a lot of surplus food to food banks, there’s a lot waste left over. Much of it is generated from prepping prepared foods. Just as when you cook in your own kitchen, there are lots of bits that remain, such as onion or carrot peel, rinds, stalks or meat scraps. The grinder turns all these bits into a slurry. “It really becomes kind of a liquefied food waste,” Franczyk says.

From here, the waste is loaded into a truck and sent to an anaerobic digester. “There’s no question it’s better than putting it in the trash,” Franczyk says. She says the chain is committed to diverting as much waste as possible and aims for zero waste. In addition to food donations, Whole Foods composts; this waste-to-energy system is yet another way to meet its goal. “We really do like the system,” she says.

We visited Bar-Way Farm, Inc. in Deerfield, Mass. Owner Peter Melnik, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, showed us how his anaerobic digester, which is installed next to his dairy barn, works.

“We presently take in about a 100 tons [of waste], which is about three tractor-trailer loads, every day,” Melnik says.

In addition to all the food waste from Whole Foods, he gets whey from a Cabot Creamery in the area, as well as waste from a local brewery and a juice plant.

In the digester on his farm, Melnik combines food waste from Whole Foods and other local sources with manure from his cows. The mixture cooks at about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As the methane is released, it rises to the top of a large red tank with a black bubble-shaped dome.

Allison Aubrey/NPR

In the digester, he combines all of this waste with manure from his cows. The mixture cooks at about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As the methane is released, it rises to the top of a large red tank with a black bubble-shaped dome.

“We capture the gas in that bubble. Then we suck it into a big motor,” Melnik explains. Unlike other engines that run on diesel or gasoline, this engine runs on methane.

“This turns a big generator, which is creating one megawatt of electricity” continuously, Melnik says — enough to power more than just his farm. “We only use about 10 percent of what we make, and the rest is fed onto the [electricity] grid,” Melnik explains. It’s enough to power about 1,500 homes.

He says times are tough for dairy farmers, so this gives him a new stream of revenue. Vanguard pays him rental fees for having the anaerobic digester on his farm. In addition, he’s able to use the liquids left over from the process as fertilizer on his fields.

A large motor (housed inside here) runs on the methane gas captured in the digester. This motor powers a generator, which creates electricity — enough to power about 1,500 homes.

Allison Aubrey/NPR

“The digester has been a home run for us,” Melnik says. “It’s made us more sustainable — environmentally [and] also economically.”

Vanguard Renewables hopes to expand its operations in the state and elsewhere. “There’s more than enough food waste in Massachusetts to feed all of our five digesters, plus many more,” says CEO John Hanselman.

Massachusetts has a state law that prohibits the disposal of commercial organic waste — including food — by businesses and institutions that generate at least one ton of this waste per week. This has created an incentive for food businesses to participate in the waste-to-energy initiative.

Hanselman points to Europe, where there are thousands of digesters in operation. His hope is that the concept will spread here. “The food waste recycling through anaerobic digestion could be done in every part of the country,” Hanselman says.

The company is currently building an anaerobic digester on a farm in Vermont. The gas produced there will be piped to Middlebury College, which will help the college reduce its carbon footprint.

Physicists Have Identified a Metal That Conducts Electricity But Not Heat

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SCIENCE.ORG)

 

Physicists Have Identified a Metal That Conducts Electricity But Not Heat

FIONA MACDONALD
30 NOV 2019

Researchers have identified a metal that conducts electricity without conducting heat – an incredibly useful property that defies our current understanding of how conductors work.

The metal, found in 2017, contradicts something called the Wiedemann-Franz Law, which basically states that good conductors of electricity will also be proportionally good conductors of heat, which is why things like motors and appliances get so hot when you use them regularly.

But a team in the US showed this isn’t the case for metallic vanadium dioxide (VO2) – a material that’s already well known for its strange ability to switch from a see-through insulator to a conductive metal at the temperature of 67 degrees Celsius (152 degrees Fahrenheit).

“This was a totally unexpected finding,” said lead researcher Junqiao Wu from Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division back in January 2017.

“It shows a drastic breakdown of a textbook law that has been known to be robust for conventional conductors. This discovery is of fundamental importance for understanding the basic electronic behavior of novel conductors.”

Not only does this unexpected property change what we know about conductors, it could also be incredibly useful – the metal could one day be used to convert wasted heat from engines and appliances back into electricity, or even create better window coverings that keep buildings cool.

Researchers already knew of a handful of other materials that conduct electricity better than heat, but they only display those properties at temperatures hundreds of degrees below zero, which makes them highly impractical for any real-world applications.

Vanadium dioxide, on the other hand, is usually only a conductor at warm temperatures well above room temperature, which means it has the ability to be a lot more practical.

To uncover this bizarre property, the team looked at the way that electrons move within vanadium dioxide’s crystal lattice, as well as how much heat was being generated.

Surprisingly, they found that the thermal conductivity that could be attributed to the electrons in the material was 10 times smaller than that amount predicted by the Wiedemann-Franz Law.

The reason for this appears to be the synchronised way that the electrons move through the material.

“The electrons were moving in unison with each other, much like a fluid, instead of as individual particles like in normal metals,” said Wu.

“For electrons, heat is a random motion. Normal metals transport heat efficiently because there are so many different possible microscopic configurations that the individual electrons can jump between.”

“In contrast, the coordinated, marching-band-like motion of electrons in vanadium dioxide is detrimental to heat transfer as there are fewer configurations available for the electrons to hop randomly between,” he added.

Interestingly, when the researchers mixed the vanadium dioxide with other materials, they could ‘tune’ the amount of both electricity and heat that it could conduct – which could be incredibly useful for future applications.

For example, when the researchers added the metal tungsten to vanadium dioxide, they lowered the temperature at which the material became metallic, and also made it a better heat conductor.

That means that vanadium dioxide could help dissipate heat from a system, by only conducting heat when it hits a certain temperature. Before that it would be an insulator.

Vanadium dioxide also has the unique ability of being transparent to around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), but then reflects infrared light above 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) while remaining transparent to visible light.

So that means it could even be used as a window coating that reduces the temperature without the need for air conditioning.

“This material could be used to help stabilize temperature,” said one of the researchers, Fan Yang.

“By tuning its thermal conductivity, the material can efficiently and automatically dissipate heat in the hot summer because it will have high thermal conductivity, but prevent heat loss in the cold winter because of its low thermal conductivity at lower temperatures.”

A lot more research needs to be done on this puzzling material before it’s commercialized further, but it’s pretty exciting that we now know these bizarre properties exist in a material at room temperature.

The research was published in Science in 2017.

A version of this article was first published in January 2017.

Iraq Signs Deals with GCC Interconnection Authority to Transmit Electricity

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Iraq Signs Deals with GCC Interconnection Authority to Transmit Electricity

Monday, 16 September, 2019 – 10:30
Iraq’s Minister of Electricity Luay al-Khateeb speaks during a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq December 11, 2018. Hadi Mizban/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
Baghdad – Fadhel al-Nashmi
Iraq signed Sunday a landmark deal with the GCC Interconnection Authority (GCC IA) for a transmission line.

Initially, the line would import 500 megawatts of electricity to its overstretched grid by 2020 and in competitive Gulf market prices, revealed the Iraqi Electricity Ministry.

The 300-kilometer transmission line would run from Kuwait to Iraq’s southern port of Faw and be financed by the GCC IA, according to the ministry.

Electricity Minister Luay al-Khateeb signed the deal, which comes amid other agreements signed with huge western firms under the strategy adopted by the ministry to reform and develop the sector, which has been suffering from a deteriorating power supply.

Iraq partly fills its power shortages by importing both electricity and natural gas from Iran.

Musab al-Mudarres, the spokesperson for the Iraqi Electricity Ministry, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Iraq seeks to become a promising market for energy by networking with the Gulf system and importing 500 megawatts by 2020, and being the link between the Gulf energy system and Europe’s.

Mudarres stressed that the ministry is working on a road map set to revitalize the energy sector, which depends on the assistance of giant firms such as General Electric (GE) and Siemens.

As for the volume of generated electricity and the target output of the ministry, the spokesperson said that Iraq has a power capacity of around 18,000 megawatts, including the amount imported through Iranian lines. But the ministry aims for 30,000 megawatts in the coming three to four years.

On Saturday, the ministry signed deals with Siemens and Orascom Construction to rebuild two power plants. Also, GE signed a new agreement with Mass Energy Group Holding (MGH) to help boost electricity generation to 4.5 megawatts.

Iraq: Don’t ‘Politicize’ Electricity, Iraq Minister Urges as Summer Nears

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Don’t ‘Politicize’ Electricity, Iraq Minister Urges as Summer Nears

Wednesday, 15 May, 2019 – 10:30
Iraq’s Minister of Electricity Luay al-Khatteeb. (Getty Images)
Asharq Al-Awsat
With temperatures rising on both the weather and security fronts across the region, Iraq’s freshman electricity minister is warning that politicizing his country’s power sector could have ripple effects around the world.

“Electricity is a national security issue,” Luay al-Khateeb told AFP in a wide-ranging interview at the ministry’s headquarters in Baghdad.

“In the end, any political, economic or security crisis in Iraq will affect the whole region — and the global economy will be open to threat.”

“We’re urging for this file not to be politicized.”

Khateeb, a 51-year-old energy expert, was appointed minister in October with a mandate to revamp Iraq’s grid, which was already ailing before it was further crippled by the ISIS group.

But he faces a pair of formidable political challenges to a typically dry, technical portfolio: the threat of renewed protests and escalating US pressure on energy-supplier Iran.

Demonstrations erupted in 2018 across Iraq against poor services, including the measly few hours of state-provided electricity per day.

This summer will be a de facto referendum on the government´s progress.

Khateeb, optimistic, said his ministry had revived out-of-service stations, fixed transmission lines, and brought temporary generators to battered areas including Mosul that ISIS held in the north.

“On October 25, the week I took office, electricity generation sat at between 9.5 to 10 GW. It is now at 15 GW,” Khateeb said.

Most Iraqi provinces, he added, “will receive no less than 20 hours of electricity per day. This, to be honest, is a level of production the country hasn’t seen in years.”

In the medium term, the ministry is developing solar power, gas-capturing capabilities, and energy deals with neighbors.

It signed contracts worth 700 million euro ($785 million) with Germany’s Siemens last month, amid expectations of similar deals with American rival General Electric.

Around a third of Iraq’s electricity relies on Iran, through 28 million cubic meters (990 cubic feet) of gas piped in to feed stations or the direct import of up to 1,300 megawatts of Iranian-produced electricity.

When Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran last year, it granted Iraq temporary exemptions until late June.

Khateeb declined to say what would happen if the waiver was not again extended.

“I’m not in the business of making predictions, but what I ask for from world powers is a little reasonableness so we can live in peace on this planet,” he told AFP.

Tensions have ramped up between Washington and Tehran, with Baghdad often caught in the middle.

Iraqi government sources say the US is pressuring Baghdad to partner with American companies including General Electric, ExxonMobil and Honeywell as it weans off Iranian energy.

Khateeb acknowledged foreign embassies were pushing for their interests in Iraq’s power sector, but said Baghdad would try to steer clear of the politics.

“The truth is we don’t want to be a scapegoat in conflicts that will negatively affect regional security, and in turn the global economy,” he said.

Besides the ticking clocks of the Iraqi street and geopolitical tensions, Khateeb admitted pressure from within the government itself.

He said he had “inherited a bureaucracy” and was often asked for favors or employment opportunities.

Asked whether he, like Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, kept his resignation letter close at hand, Khateeb sounded determined.

“One needs to have a thick skin,” he said.

“Either I focus on the politicians, or I focus on the work.”