Southington Food-To-Energy Plant Fired Up For Full Operation In May

Hartford Courant || March 16, 2017

Last month's leftover casserole, rotting vegetables and other food waste will fuel two new facilities here to generate enough electricity to power thousands of homes a year.

Gases created as bacteria decomposes food waste is the key to both projects, one built off DePaolo Drive by Quantum Biopower, the other to be built off Spring Street by Turning Earth LLC.

"These will be the first two such facilities in Connecticut, both in Southington," Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Monday.

More are expected, a result of a state mandate that 60 percent of all organic food waste be recycled by 2024. Food waste makes up about 25 percent of the roughly 2 million tons of trash generated yearly in Connecticut, according to state records.

The technology both plants will use is similar to existing food-waste recycling facilities in Europe.

Quantum, a subsidiary of Supreme Industries of Harwinton, is already priming its equipment with food waste, hoping to start full operation by May. Turning Earth, a Pennsylvania company, got DEEP approval two weeks ago to start construction.

Quantum's $14 million facility began accepting food waste on Dec. 27. The system is being prepared, its digesting chambers solidly primed with more food waste to encourage the crucial food-digesting bacteria to thrive and grow.

"We're slowly taking the system to full volume," Quantum Vice President Brian Paganini said Monday. "Right now we're about 20 percent. We have to increase it carefully so not to overload the bacteria. We'll keep on feeding it bit by bit and could be fully operational as early as late April."

Quantum will process 40,000 tons of food waste from central Connecticut businesses annually to produce flammable gases. The gas will power machines that create 1.2 megawatts of electricity a year.

The Turning Earth permit states the 37-acre facility will turn 54,000 tons of food waste and 25,000 tons of organic leaf, yard and wood waste into power and compost. It will produce 14 megawatts of electricity and an estimated 45,000 tons of clean organic compost.

Turning Earth also has permission to build an onsite greenhouse using plant-generated heat, power and compost to grow 1.5 million heads of lettuce a year.

Quantum Biopower's high-tech recycling plant will process 40,000 tons of food waste yearly from central Connecticut restaurants, stores, food wholesalers, catering halls and other businesses that discard waste food.

The food waste processing systems are mechanical versions of a digestive system, reducing food to a slurry, and using bacteria to break it down and extract useful products.What's left is used as compost.

The industrial systems are a complicated network of food-grinding machines, heated water and pipes that move the food slurry into sealed processing tanks to decompose. Anaerobic bacteria consume the slurry, producing flammable gas that will be burned to power electricity-generating machines. Heat from the bacterial breakdown of food will be used to warm the plant.

The systems are tightly sealed to control odor. Trucks hauling food waste to the plants will be in enclosed buildings before food is dumped.

Last November, Robert Klee, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said food waste recycling makes sense.

At an end-of-construction ceremony Nov. 15 at the Quantum site, Klee said this type of food waste digestion facility is "a 21st-century approach to management of our trash by turning waste food into affordable energy."