Saturday, July 25, 2009


Now I can’t say as I understand all this, so you’ll have to bear with me if what I say is worded awkwardly or isn’t quite 100% accurate, but it’s about when a white onion turns green, which is a good thing for everybody.

Seems there is an onion farmer up in Oxnard, California who sends his onions to many places and in many forms. I’m talking about round, white onions, not long green onions. His onions are skinned, diced, sliced or packaged whole. However, he, (he being Steven Gill) says that machines slice off about 40% of each onion before it is packed. With the volume of onions handled in a workday, that produces about 150 tons of waste each day.

Up until recently he used these leavings as fertilizer for his fields or sold them to cattle farmers as feed for their stock. But Steve and his brother David came up with an idea. They put the leftovers into machines that extract about 30,000 gallons of onion juice, which is then sent to a huge holding tank that keeps it at 95 degrees F. Into that juice they add bacteria purchased from Anheuser-Busch beer brewery. Methane gas is produced by the bacteria feasting on the carbohydrates in the fermenting juice.

According to an article in the LA Times, the gas is purified, dehumidified and compressed, then burned in the fuel cells at temperatures that exceed 1,000 degrees. The 600-kilowatt system produces enough power to operate the plant’s refrigeration units and lighting.

This is called a closed-loop system. The brothers said there were massive up-front costs to get this system going, but he feels it was a long term investment for the company. He has sliced $700,000 annually off the electric bill at the 14 acre plant in Oxnard. He also saves $400,000 a year on disposal costs. It says it was a $9.5 million system that will pay for itself in less than six years. But best of all, it eliminates up to 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions a year. Steven is proud that it is a great “sustainability” story, but he said it was first a business decision to solve a waste problem.

I was quite delighted to read this somewhat technical article. It is not easy to be “green.” It’s easy to leave the problem for someone else to worry about. It’s easy to think one’s own little contribution isn’t worth all the effort and change to even mess around with it. I am not much in touch with farming and businesses and electricity and so on, and I have to admit I don’t read much about sustainability and carbon footprints and even how to be “green.” But I was very impressed with what these fellows have done. I do think they are being good stewards of the earth, and felt I wanted to give them a thumbs up in my little corner of the internet!

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