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New food waste system at Notre Dame creates clean energy for local farm

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind.—The University of Notre Dame’s new food waste system is using non-consumable waste to create clean energy for a local farm.

Notre Dame is only the second school in the country to use the innovative food-waste recycling technology.

“This one location to date has diverted 7.5 tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere in its first six weeks. What that translates to is about 11 tons of food waste that we’ve kept out of the landfill and it’s also generated 2000 kw hours of clean renewable electricity,” said senior program director for sustainability at Notre Dame, Allison Mihalich.

The new system is set to reduce non-consumable food waste on campus by over 2,000 pounds per day and is a direct result of the research done by a Notre Dame student.

Junior chemical engineering major Matthew Magiera proposed the idea because of a lack of available space, ingredients and need for composting the waste to create fertilizer. 

“It’s something that’s very frustrating as a student because the way the tray system is set up you see all of the food waste go to the back,” Magiera said.

According to Magiera, the food waste on campus was so great that it could be represented by everyone filling up a glass during every meal at the dining hall.

The Emerson Electric product, Grind2Energy transforms waste, including food scraps, fats, oils and grease, into clean, renewable energy that also reduces odors, pests and emissions.

Egg shells and shrimp are examples of food waste that the system processes using anaerobic digestion.  

“The neat thing about anaerobic digestion is the gas product we can burn for energy and the Nipsco generators use that, the liquid product we can sell to farmers as fertilizers because it’s very rich in nitrogen and the solid product can be skimmed off as cattle bedding,” Magiera said.

Homestead Dairy, a dairy farm spread across multiple facilities in Plymouth, uses the byproduct created by the Grind2Energy system to power their generators. It’s enough to power as many as 1,000 homes per hour.

“They’re using that electricity to keep that dairy operation and then they’re selling it back to the utility on a scale of a megawatt a day. So we’re just one piece of a pretty big operation already underway,” Mihalich said.

The first of three planned systems consists of a processing sink, grinder and 5,000 gallon outdoor holding tank. The system was implemented at the Center for Culinary Excellence (CCE), a part of University Catering, in January.

Two more Grind2Energy systems will be installed in both the North and South dining halls. The three systems are expected to reduce non-consumable food waste from dining halls and CCE by 99 percent.

Watch the video below for a quick peek into the process and to hear from Notre Dame junior Matthew Migiera. 

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