Quantum Biopower turning massive amounts of food waste into energy in ConnecticutNew Haven Register April 16, 2017
The Quantum bio-fuel plant in Southington, where food waster will be used to create electricity through creation of methane gas.
SOUTHINGTON >> U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., started his political career here, and he returned to town last week to tour a newly opened, $14 million facility that soon will begin producing electricity using food waste from across the state.
Murphy came to the home of Quantum Biopower on Depaolo Drive to see first-hand what may be the forefront of food waste disposal in the Northeast. The company is located adjacent to the former Southington landfill with the Lake Compounce Amusement Park and a solid waste incinerator that looms in the distance near the town’s border with Bristol.
An anaerobic digester turns rotting food waste into methane gas to produce electricity.
Inside, the smell of the rotting food is overpowering, but with the doors to the building that houses the anaerobic digester closed, the stench disappears, thanks to a state-of-the-art system designed to prevent the smell from escaping the building.
Adjacent to the anaerobic digester building are a pair of million-gallon tanks where high levels of heat are applied to the liquefied trash produced by the anaerobic digester. The super-heated liquid becomes a methane gas that will be used to produce electricity for Southington’s municipal buildings, sold to the town at a reduced rate that will lower what the town spends on energy annually for the next 20 years.
The process of reducing Southington’s electric costs won’t begin until about a month from now. That’s because the facility isn’t yet generating enough methane gas from food waste to power a newly purchased specialized internal combustion engine that recently arrived from a German company.
When fully operational, the plant will produce 1.2 megawatts of power.
The anaerobic digester will remove 40,000 tons of rotting food from the state’s overall waste stream. That is important because, according to the Connecticut Solid Waste Management Plan, food waste and compostable paper make up about 770,000 tons of Connecticut’s garbage stream.
Connecticut’s goal is to divert 60 percent of food waste from the state’s garbage stream by 2024.
Quantum Biopower gets organic waste from supermarkets, banquet halls, hotel kitchens and schools. One of the biggest suppliers of food waste to the facility is Yale University.
Prior to the opening of the Southington facility, Yale had been sending about 1,000 tons of organic waste a week to a composting facility in New Milford. Bob Ferretti, Yale Waste Systems manager, said in a statement that using Quantum for food waste disposal will “substantially decrease the cost of disposal, reduce labor costs and significantly reduce the environmental impact associated with hauling the material.”
The Southington facility is one-third closer to Yale’s New Haven campus than the New Milford composting facility, according to Ferretti, and can process garbage such as expired packaged tomatoes without concern for damaging the anaerobic digestion machine.
Quantum Biopower is a subsidiary of the Supreme Group of Companies, which began 30 years ago as a small land-clearing business in Harwinton and now employs about 270 doing regional land-clearing work for utilities and power plants, said Brian Paganini, Quantum’s vice president and managing director.
“We’ve always been creative and forward-thinking about how we manage the waste streams (from the tree-clearing business,” Paganini said. “If we cut a tree or treetop 30 years ago, that would have ended up in a landfill. We started looking at ways to produced a renewable product.”
Now, on the same site as the Quantum plant is a facility that grinds up parts of trees and other organic material from site clearing into compost that is sold at Home Depot and other home improvement retailers. The mulching operation in Southington produces 350,000 cubic yards on a yearly basis, Paganini said.
The sludge left over from the anaerobic digester process would add 10,000 tons a year of premium organic compost to fertilize Connecticut’s lawns, gardens and farm fields, he said.
Quantum received a $2 million low-interest loan from the Connecticut Green Bank toward the overall costs of the project, which took about three years to come together. Paganini asked Murphy to help the business with several challenges.
First, Paganini said, Quantum would like to sell some of the nutrient-rich liquid that comes from the plant as fertilizer.
Quantum officials also want bio-gas companies to be allowed access the same type of investment tax credits that are now available to wind and solar projects. That would allow for more bio-gas facilities to begin operating in Connecticut.
Ultimately, Paganini said Quantum will be able to refine the methane gas production process to allow the company to produce commercial-grade natural gas that could be used to reduce the cost of operating natural gas-fired power plants in Connecticut and around the region, particularly during peak usage periods.
Murphy said his some of his U.S. Senate colleagues who represent states in the Midwest are familiar with anaerobic digestion systems because small versions of the technology are use on dairy farms and other agricultural businesses.
“But this is to a scale that exists almost nowhere in the United States,” he said of the Southington facility. “Every state should have one. This is the kind of facility to move away from coal-fired power generation.
Murphy acknowledged, however, that President Donald Trump’s support of reinvigorating the coal industry could make bio-mass facilities like the one at Quantum less attractive.
Southington and its willingness to enter into a long-term power purchase agreement with Quantum has played an important role in getting the facility built and stabilizing the facility’s future.
Michael Riccio, chairman of Southington’s Town Council, said municipal leaders set a goal four years ago to become Connecticut’s green energy capital.
The Quantum facility took three years to get off the ground, but Riccio said he has a vision in which the area surrounding the Quantum facility could become a major commerce hub for the region. The Republican councilman said Quantum has been approached by Covanta Energy, the operator of the incinerator that operates in neighboring Bristol, about the possibility of an agreement that would allow the New Jersey-based company to take the food waste stream it gets from its trash transfer stations and dispose of it with the anaerobic digester.
“I can see a day when the power produced here will be used to reduce the electric bills at Lake Compounce (amusement park) to the point where they could build a massive indoor water park, similar to the one they have in the Poconos,” Riccio said.