Dining Services to turn to anaerobic digestion methods to deal with food waste on campus

The Daily Campus || September 28, 2018

Dining Services will continue to use anaerobic digestion processing methods to help deal with food waste more efficiently on campus, according to Dining Services project manager Mike O’Day.

Anaerobic digestion is defined as taking any waste product and digesting it in the absence of oxygen to maximize methane production, O’Day said.

“You skim the methane, clean it and generate electricity,” O’Day said. “Not big in the U.S., but it’s becoming more popular.”

Anaerobic digestion methods are popular in hog farming, dairy farming and large agribusiness, O’Day said.

In 2016, O’Day contacted Brian Paganini, a 2003 UConn alum who was then chartering an anaerobic digestion plant known now as Quantum Biopower in Southington. O’Day said that his goal was to foster a relationship between the company and the university to help make UConn more efficient in processing its waste.

The first shipment to Quantum went out in Dec. 2017 from Putnam dining hall, which has been chosen as the pilot location. O’Day said that shipment was incredibly successful, and that anaerobic digestion has grown to be the best alternative.

“You’re separating your food waste with minimal processing on our end. It doesn’t cost us a lot of money because there’s no equipment or machines,” O’Day said. “All we’re doing is separating the food in the dining hall and shipping it to Southington, and then they process it.”

O’Day said that the company factory, which is located at 49 DePaolo Drive in Southington, is completely contained and doesn’t decrease the value of the surrounding areas.

“There’s no unsightliness or odor to it, from the outside,” O’Day said. “It’s a very modern facility. It does meet the requirements of the closed looped sustainable system.”

Gelfenbein and South dining halls were added to the program in the spring semester of last year, as well. Today, six of the eight dining halls are participating in the program and sending their waste products to Quantum.

O’Day said that he is holding off on adding McMahon and Buckley dining units, since those units share a dumpster with academic buildings, so it is more difficult to separate the food waste from other waste products.

O’Day said the plan is to send shipments out as infrequently as possible throughout the week, possibly on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. The schedule will depend on the deal O’Day can reach with WilliWaste, the company that is responsible for hauling food waste off campus.

The electricity produced by Quantum has been purchased by the town of Southington under a 20-year contract, according to O’Day.

“The energy market is national, but the actual energy generated is local,” O’Day. “The energy goes into a marketplace, but is part of a larger grid system.”

O’Day said he is confident in UConn’s ability to continue contributing to alternative energy sources.

“All we’re doing is separating the food in the dining hall and shipping it to Southington, and then they process it"
— Dining services manager Mike O'Day

“As one of the leading research universities in the country, we are trying to be on the forefront of making a difference as far as climate change is concerned,” O’Day said. “This is all part of the 2020 climate summit conference, so we want to be on the leading edge of that.”