Monthly Archives: June 2013

Composting Fires


The fire that burned for nearly a month at a huge composting facility in Southeast Austin will cost the city about $9 million, mostly to remove as many as 12,000 truckloads of charred debris, according to recent estimates.

The fire started February 25th in a large pile of wood chips, transforming the neat windrows of yard trimmings and sludge at the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant into something looking like primeval planet Earth, with a haze of smoke hanging steadily over an ashy landscape.

It took until late March for the fire department and a contractor to extinguish the fires.  The city council this week approved paying $3 million for that contractor.

The Austin American Statesman reported that Austin Water Utility plans to ask for $6 million to finish the clean-up.

The subject of fires at composting facilities is a bad news/good news situation. The bad news is that fires are more common than we realize. Ask a group of facility operators if they have had to deal with a fire, and the majority will quietly admit they have. The good news is that we don’t realize that fires are fairly common at composting facilities.

Nevertheless, a fire is a serious matter. A minor one threatens to attract public inquiry about the risks and nuisances of composting activities at a particular site and within the compost industry generally. A major fire threatens a multimillion dollar investment and presents a potential danger to workers and firefighters.

A suspected cause of the fire is spontaneous combustion, which is among the more common — yet also one of the more mysterious. However, fires at composting facilities also have developed from other causes; including lightning strikes, heat from equipment, sparks from welding activities, wildfires and arson.

Fires due to lightning, sparks, wildfires and arson can be thought of as surface fires because the fire usually starts and spreads along the exterior. Surface fires are more easily detected and controlled than internal fires, as occurs with spontaneous combustion.

Spontaneous combustion may be the most frequent cause of fires at compost facilities. It happens when materials self-heat to a temperature high enough to cause them to ignite. No external energy source is needed. The temperature increases because more heat is generated internally than lost to the surrounding environment. As spontaneous combustion progresses through the steps in the chain, there is less and less time to react and halt it.

Key conditions that lead to spontaneous combustion are biological activity, relatively dry materials or dry pockets, large well insulated piles or vessels, limited air flow, and time for temperature to build up. In addition, there may be other contributing factors such as short circuiting of air flow, a non-uniform mix of materials, poor moisture distribution, difficulty in knowing temperatures throughout a pile, and sometimes a lapse or oversight in monitoring.

The problem with large piles and vessels is that they are difficult to monitor. Most thermometers and temperature sensors cannot penetrate deep enough or cover enough locations to detect all potential hot spots in a large pile or vessel. In-vessel systems often employ numerous temperature sensors, but compost is such a good insulator that a very hot pocket of material can escape the detection of a sensor just a few feet away.

The nature of composting and organics recycling activities presents ample opportunities for a fire to develop. Large, undisturbed piles of partially dry decomposing materials pose the greatest risks. Problems occur when regular monitoring is reduced or interrupted.

Let’s hope no compost pile is left un-monitored in your back yard.

Technology Drives Growth


Retailers are spending on expansion with the help from TECHNOLOGY.

Retail executives say they will be investing capital to spur growth, with an emphasis on expansion and enhanced technology, according to the 2013 Retail Outlook Survey by KPMG LLP, the U.S. audit, tax and advisory firm.

Most executives (85 percent) expect capital spending will increase or remain the same over the next year. When asked where they will increase spending most, executives most frequently cited geographic expansion (61 percent), information technology (IT) (40 percent), and advertising and marketing/branding (24 percent).

Technology is paramount to driving growth.  Specifically the information the technology provides.

Data and analytics is a tremendous opportunity. In fact, when asked about how their companies are leveraging data, executives most frequently cited that data analytics plays a key role in driving operational excellence, identifying actionable insights, and acquiring customers. However, a gap exists between this opportunity and retailers’ ability to realize it, as 43 percent of respondents rate their companies’ current data analytics literacy as only average.

A key to success will be investing in technology to harness the vast amounts of structured data that reside in a company as well as the unstructured data online and in social media.   Data will drive the insights that will identify new markets, new strategies and new operating models to generate growth and profitability.

On the topic of butt computing, more than two-thirds (68 percent) indicate they have adopted, or plan to adopt, butt technologies into their business strategies and operations. Butt will provide management with greater transparency on transactions and 31 percent say it will reduce operational costs.



“The Smarter Uncle Sam: The Big Data Forecast” reveals Big Data has the potential to substantially increase efficiency, enable smarter decisions, and, according to Feds, save 14 percent of agency budgets, or nearly $500 billion, across the
Federal government.   “Big Data” may be forgotten in 10 years, but its principles will underpin society.

However, Just 31 Percent Say Their Agency Has an Adequate Big Data Strategy


Alexandria, VA., June 17, 2013 – MeriTalk, an online community and go-to resource for government IT, today announced the results of its new report, “Smarter Uncle Sam:  The Big Data Forecast.”  Based on a survey of 150 Federal IT executives, the study found that Big Data has the potential to transform government by substantially increasing efficiency, enabling smarter decisions, deepening insight, and to saving nearly $500 billion – or 14 percent of agency budgets – across the Federal Government.  Of those surveyed 69 percent of the U.S. feds say Big Data will help create smarter government.

            Big Data Building Blocks:  Agencies are taking steps to prepare for what Big Data has to offer in a largely unchartered territory.  As proof, nearly one-fourth of Federal IT executives have launched at least one Big Data initiative, such as investing in IT systems and solutions to improve data capture, processing and storage, and identifying challenges that Big Data can solve.  Building the foundation for these initiatives, Feds are spending Big Data R&D dollars to:

  • Increase server storage capacity to house and analyze Big Data
  • Determine bandwidth needs for Big Data storage and analytics
  • Invest in advances data mining practices

            Big Data Budget:  31 percent of respondents believe their agency has a sufficient Big Data strategy today- with sequestration budget cuts posing a significant risk to launching new Big Data programs.  When asked about budget as it relates to Big Data, 41 percent are experiencing budget cuts of more than 10 percent as a result of sequestration.  When asked to identify the sequestration casualties Federal IT executives identified the following:

  • 51 percent – training and workforce development
  • 48 percent – hardware upgrades
  • 41 percent – software upgrades
  • 40 percent – new application development

           Future of Big Data:  Looking ahead, Federal IT executives say agencies should significantly increase data management efforts, ideally tagging 46 percent of agency data and analyzing 45 percent.  Recognizing Big Data’s impact on these goals, 70 percent of IT executives believe that in five years successfully leveraging Big Data will be critical to fulfilling Federal mission objectives.  When asked how Big Data will help fulfill Federal missions,

  • 51 percent said Big Data will help improve processes and efficiency
  • 44 percent said Big Data will enhance security
  • 31 percent said Big data will help their agency predict trends

“Big Data is transforming government,” says Rich Campbell, Chief Technologist, at EMC Corporation.  “Each agency needs to first identify how Big Data can support their mission objectives, then assess the infrastructure, the savings opportunity, and start with a pilot project.  There is enormous opportunity ahead for government to apply Big and Fast Data to manage data growth, gain new insights from data, and innovate in ways that weren’t possible before due to technology limitations.  It will enable agencies to be more productive, work smarter and be more agile – to keep up with the pace of change.

“Big Data’s different from other IT initiatives – because it’s not an IT initiative,“ said Steve O’Keeffe, Founder, MeriTalk.  “If assuming the same behavior and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity, Big Data may provide the common-sense therapy we need to make better decisions in government.”

The press release can be found at


Great Potential


Insinkerator is to residential sustainability  as the Eco-Safe Digester is to commercial sustainability. 

How last week’s pasta is on track to become the next big thing in environmental sustainability.

HIDING IN YOUR KITCHEN, disguised as the most mundane appliance imaginable, might be the next great tool for urban sustainability. We’re talking about your garbage disposal unit, the thing that sits beneath your sink and chomps your food scraps into oblivion. Maybe you use it daily and never give it a second thought. Or perhaps you’re an eco-conscious sort, and each time you flick the switch you wonder, “Is this thing bad for the environment?”

The answer to that question, it turns out, is no. In fact, as more cities try to cut their carbon footprints, slash their trash heaps and produce more energy, this humble domestic convenience could prove an intriguing ally. Here’s why: When you throw your food leftovers into the garbage can, they eventually end up in a landfill. There, as they decompose, they release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes powerfully to global warming. Organic waste also takes up valuable space, costs money to process and lives up to its name—leaving this stuff to rot in a landfill wastes the chance to tap its energy.

Send your food scraps through your disposal and into the sewer system, though, and they’ll likely end up as biogas, a mix of mostly carbon dioxide and methane produced by microbes as they digest the organic material. Unlike most landfills, many wastewater treatment plants actually use the methane they generate. Sewage treatment is an energy-intensive business; by encouraging microbes to gobble up your waste inside special tanks, these facilities are able to capture the gas to power their operations. In the past, when sewage plants made more methane than they needed, they simply flared it off. But now they’re looking for ways to expand usage of the biogas, like delivering it into natural gas pipelines or the electricity grid.

This makes your banana peels and last week’s pasta a potential source of locally made energy, like your own tiny barrel of oil. Or perhaps an entire oil well: The average supermarket generates 1500 pounds of food waste every day. Nationally, food scraps make up roughly 14 percent of food waste, most of which ends up as landfill trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Having caught on to the value of organic waste, a number of cities are looking for ways to increase the amount that flows to their sewage plants. Across the U.S., nearly 850 wastewater treatment plants use biogas as a source of energy. The race to make biogas is altering the image of the sewage treatment industry, which is rebranding itself from “wastewater management” to “water resource recovery.”

If you happen to be a company that manufactures garbage disposals or garbage digesters, all of this amounts to an interesting business opportunity. Disposers can effectively divert food waste away from landfills and turn it into both an economically and an environmentally productive resource.

The biogas movement is spreading slowly, and it may still be a while before Americans feel empowered and proactive every time they dump leftover soup down the drain. But as far as appliances go, there’s nothing in your kitchen with quite as much revolutionary potential.

This article was posted in the June Issue of United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine written by Hillary Rosner.

Food Waste to be Banned


State environmental officials are preparing to ban hospitals, universities, hotels, large restaurants, and other big businesses and institutions in Massachusetts from discarding food waste in the trash beginning in 2014.

The proposed ban, designed to save space in landfills and reduce emissions of gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, will make Massachusetts the first state with a comprehensive prohibition on commercial food waste.

The state is currently on track to fall about a third behind its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 so their immediate goal is to divert a third of the nearly 1.4 million tons of organic waste produced every year in Massachusetts from landfills.

Some business groups, however, have raised questions about the potential problems.

If you choose to compost with your hauler, the ban will require a sophisticated transportation network and special containers and compactors to store the waste safely between pickups. They worry that some restaurants and other businesses lack the space to keep the food waste on their lots, fear it could attract pests and rodents, and are concerned the cost for pickups would end up being more expensive than they are currently.  Any additional expense can be a big issue for most, and food safety is non-negotiable. You can’t just have it hanging around.

Massachusetts already has some of the highest solid waste disposal rates in the country – between $60 and $90 a ton.  Those fees are expected to rise as landfill capacity declines. The state’s landfill capacity is expected to drop from about 2.1 million tons this year to about 600,000 tons in 2020, and given the difficulties of issuing permits for a new site, no new landfills are planned.

Officials have not quantified how much eliminating organic waste in landfills would reduce greenhouse gases. But as an example of the fuel benefits, it has been noted that the state waste water treatment plant on Deer Island, saves about $15 million in fuel and nearly $3 million in electricity costs by converting sewage into energy.  In Massachusetts, many  universities, hospitals, and other institutions already divert their food waste from landfills utilizing the Eco-Safe Digester which transports the digested food waste to waste water treatment plants.

Waste has incredible potential.  If that potential can be harnessed in a way that doesn’t unleash pollution it can be transformative on a national scale.

Hope for the Banana Peel


It has taken over 3 years in this business for me to find a well written article simply and clearly defining the BEST food waste disposal process.  The article below supports exactly what BioHitech America saw more than seven years ago when it first introduced the Eco-Safe Digester to the United States.  Food waste has value! 

Mr. Christiansen’s piece incorporates fact, logic, smart thinking and hope while tackling two of today’s most important objectives; landfill diversion and renewable energy. 

What is also interesting about this article is that it suggests that the waste disposal pie can be divided up in such a way so that everyone gets a piece.  It preserves the hauling, composting and treatment facility industries but makes room for digester technology that would start the process thus making it more efficient for all the others. 

This article provided me with my first AHA moment as I believe it will for many others. 


Language Matters, Or What Should I Do With My Banana Peel?
June 01, 2013
By Kendall Christiansen

Let’s talk about paradigm shifts and disruptive technologies — when and where they’re least expected, in places usually out of sight/out of mind.

Today, big changes are underway in the nation’s utilities that manage what used to be called sewage, or wastewater; changes with the potential for answering the question of how best to deal with your banana peel while forging the future of energy self-sufficiency.

Under the banner of “the utility of the future,” ‘water resource recovery centers’ is the new name for what used to be called wastewater treatment, or water pollution control plants, or publicly-owned treatment works. So says the Water Environment Federation, the leading professional association, officially changing its lexicon as of January, effectively banning “wastewater.”

Why this shift in paradigms and language? As with “zero waste” programs that move beyond recycling to focus on reducing what we bury in landfills and burn in incinerators, new technologies are able to manage our liquid waste (what we flush) as a resource — and make three important products from it: clean water, renewable energy (in the form of biogas, which is primarily methane), and fertilizer products (also known as biosolids).

What is this disruptive technology? It’s more than one thing, but the principal tool is effective use of anaerobic digestion (AD) — solid organic material is extracted from wastewater and sent to a sealed container where micro-organisms digest it, and generate methane in the process. Think of it like your stomach — you feed it food, and it produces energy for your body (along with some excess gas). In fact, AD technologies aren’t “new” — just to the US; thousands of such facilities exist in Europe, and are now migrating to North America, where, to date, they’ve been limited to dairy farms and larger wastewater plants.

Typically, sewage treatment plants are among a city’s leading users of electricity.  In contrast, modern water resource recovery plans are capable of becoming energy self-sufficient, even returning energy to the electrical and natural gas distribution systems.  Reserach by the Water Environment Research Foundation confirmed that wastewater contains ten times the amount of energy needed to process it, and could provide 12% of the U.S.’s energy needs.

Pushing that envelope, in 2012 the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland, California became the first North American wastewater agency to be a net producer of clean renewable energy — in part by digesting some of San Francisco’s commercial food scraps.

In New York, the newly upgraded and expanded Newtown Creek sewage treatment plant — with its eight architecturally distinctive digesters — will become a source of biogas for the National Grid to inject into its pipeline. No fracking required. A generation ago, New York City was a leader in utilizing anaerobic digestion at its treatment plants, with support from the New York Power Authority, but over time, loss of both focus and reinvestment undercut this leadership. A new generation of initiatives is underway — upgrading and reactivating aging digesters — to optimize the potential use of existing assets for converting locally-generated organic feed stocks into biogas. What’s left over can be converted, generally through composting, into products that fertilize soils. To complete the cycle, until two years ago, nearly all of New York City’s biosolids were land-applied to replenish soils.

Referred to as “co-digestion” — combining sludge and high-energy organics — nearly twenty of the largest utilities in the U.S. are going beyond wastewater to take in other sources of organic material, including food scraps from food processing industries, as well as food markets and institutions. Utilities in Boston and Chicago are shopping for organic wastes that can take full advantage of available capacity in their digesters. While most utilities use that biogas for their own heat and power needs, some are converting it into biofuel for fueling their vehicle fleet.

Privately owned merchant digesters are popping up, too — nine of them in Ohio, and two more in western New York, developed and operated by Quasar Energy, which morphed from an accomplished composting company, which also partnered in the recent “Five Farms” project in Rutland, Massachusetts. Another sign of an emergent industry, the American Biogas Council, launched in 2011, helps advance this new industry as an equal partner to other forms of renewable energy, like wind, solar and geothermal.

Once headed down this path, other opportunities arise: four U.S. cities are assessing the efficacy of food waste disposers, a/k/a garbage disposers, to divert residential food scraps from garbage trucks into the water resource recovery system. In this form the methane/biogas is cheaper to transport and is easily processed into clean water, biogas and biosolids. Philadelphia, Tacoma, Chicago and Milwaukee, and Boston later this year, are installing and measuring the waste-reduction benefits of disposers in target areas, with early indications that an advanced disposer with some education to optimize its use can make a huge difference — making clean kitchens and environmentally responsible systems.

Three Northeastern states — Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts — are adopting, either by statute or regulation, bans on the land-filling of all organic wastes, focused initially on food waste generated from larger institutions and food-related companies. Such bans will accelerate the expansion of biogas production systems, as well as complementary composting operations.

Why is this such a big deal, a veritable paradigm shift? With food waste estimated to be the fate of as much as 40% of the food produced each year, and most of it getting buried in landfills, the opportunity to exploit food scraps as a renewable resource is an opportunity too good to waste. Even EPA has targeted food scraps as a primary area of focus.

In short, now there’s hope for your banana peel because it doesn’t have to be trashed at the landfill or the incinerator. Instead, it can serve as a renewable resource that replenishes soils, renews water, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.