EV’s Joanna Underwood along with members of the Generate UpCycle team at its Buffalo AD facility. Elected officials and staff from western NY participated in the educational August tour.
In 1886, it was the first city in the US to have electric streetlights. The Hotel Buffalo was the first in the world to have a private bath in each hotel room. Buffalo has been called the City of Parks because it has a vast system of parks built by renowned landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted. Buffalo is also the hometown of New York’s first woman governor, Kathy Hochul.
Buffalo now has another distinction: it is home to the first food waste digester in NYS, one of around 70 nationwide. This facility processes 45,000 tons of food waste a year from farms, food processors, restaurants, and grocery stores, turning it into two valuable products. One is a clean fuel, made from the methane-rich biogas emitted by the decomposing organic waste that now powers the plant as well as 900 homes and businesses. The other is soil amendments, made from the “digestate” left after gas capture, which enriches more than 1,000 acres of farmland.
Since NYS leaders need to see this technology and to understand the contribution it can make to the State’s future, Energy Vision hosted a tour of the Buffalo digester in September in partnership with Generate Upcycle, a business within Generate Capital that builds, owns, and operates anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities across North America and Europe. (Generate Upcycle bought this digester from Ohio developer Quasar and renovated it.) Energy Vision is also planning tours this fall of the Newtown Creek wastewater plant in Brooklyn and another Generate UpCycle facility in Auburn, NY.
New York State generates over 3 million tons of food waste a year, much of which now goes into landfills. But a law that came into effect at the start of 2022 now requires businesses and institutions that generate at least 2 tons of food scraps per week to donate the edible portion and send any remaining food waste to organics recycling facilities. The latter includes the Buffalo Digester and four other regional ADs that accept food scraps as well as 60 compost sites. The US has set a goal of redistributing the 50% of discarded food that is edible by 2030, with the first priority for human consumption and the second for animal feed.
But the other 50% need not be “waste” either. While New York State’s Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law is a good start, if the State steps up its game to divert the edible half of all discarded food by 2030, it could beneficially process the other inedible half with ~20 new-build anaerobic digestors like the Buffalo Digester. These ADs alone could produce enough RNG to power over 20,000 New York homes or businesses that cannot be readily electrified, or enough vehicle fuel to displace 15 million gallons of high-carbon, health-damaging diesel in bus or truck fleets. And thousands of tons of high-quality soil amendments from digestate would be available to fortify the state’s agricultural lands.
ADs can be built on the small or large scale. With the launch of our new report, Putting New York’s Organic Waste to Work, we hope to see many more ADs in the coming years like the commendable Buffalo Digester.