Sustainability in America - Waste To Energy

There are many untapped potential waste streams in our state that are valuable resources for energy.
Sustainability in America - Waste To Energy - Articles


Energy From Waste

America is facing a great opportunity to increase its sustainability and grow new business ventures simply by using resources that we used to discard. Penn State's Energy from Waste Extension Team is working to help take advantage of this opportunity. There are many untapped potential waste streams in our state that are valuable resources for energy. These include animal waste, food processing waste, urban wood waste, waste plastic and municipal wastes destined for landfills.

Penn State Extension

  • is working to develop these waste streams into clean renewable energy supplies that can reduce disposal costs and other environmental issues.
  • Extension educators are working with local businesses and farms to better understand the potential of digester systems and their implementation.
  • Ongoing Extension demonstrations and educational programs are targeted to help develop strategies to sustainably convert these waste products into energy.

In a recent food waste project, our collaborators were able to save 100,000 gallons of fuel annually by developing a digester system for their food waste system.

  • These projects often require coordination of federal, state and local funding partners and increasingly development of credits for renewable energy, carbon and nutrients that can contribute to the funding of the project.
  • Extension staff can help understand the process and develop partnerships to expedite the project.

Industrial Waste to Energy

The use of the methane digesters on farms and in conjunction with food waste industries is expanding due to higher energy costs, higher waste disposal costs and incentives to produce more renewable electricity.

One example has been the work of the Crawford County extension offices in helping a local business conceptualize, design and fund a digester system for a local cheese plant. This single project, helped to save 65,000 gallons of fuel oil annually, and produce 2 million kWh electricity while dramatically reducing waste disposal costs.

Ag Waste to Energy

Many agricultural enterprises generate ag waste such as manure that can be digested or incinerated to produce energy.

One project, for example is targeted at converting poultry waste into energy. In this system, the poultry waste could be converted into energy to heat the poultry production facilities, while producing an ash co-product that could be used as a fertilizer for crop productions.

Plastic Waste to Energy

The use of waste products for energy is especially attractive since often these are low cost feedstocks that may often be destined for a landfill where a tipping fee is assessed for the disposal.

By developing a potential energy use for these feedstocks, landfill space is conserved, energy is produce, and the revenue can be generated from the production of the waste.

Projects such as the Plastofuel project, which is developing a demonstration of an effective method of disposing of waste agricultural plastics, are an example of the way Extension is addressing these waste to energy issues.