biogas waste to energy photo biogas waste to energy photo Biogas plants, like the one in this photo, use organic matter, often sourced from nearby fields. The plant being built in Charlotte, N.C., is innovative in that it will draw from local landfills. (Photo: Juergen Faelchle / Shutterstock)

North Carolina plant will turn food waste into energy

Project is slated for completion in 2015.

Roughly 40 percent of food gets wasted in the United States each year, amounting to a $165 billion annual loss, according to the National Resource Defense Council. Most of that tossed-out food ends up in already-crowded landfills, where it releases dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. An innovative clean technology firm called Blue Sphere has a possible solution to both problems: turning waste into energy.

The Israel-based consolidated company has partnered with other companies to build a 5.2 megawatt renewable waste-to-energy plant in Charlotte, N.C. The plant will be powered by waste from farms and uneaten food that would normally end up in local landfills, along with waste from commercial and industrial sources.

The waste is broken down with anaerobic bacteria that's turned into biogas (mostly methane and carbon dioxide) with compost as a byproduct. The gas is pumped into an electric generation plant which uses it to power steam turbines that generate electricity.

Blue Sphere expects to have the Charlotte plant online by 2015 and to have 11 additional facilities built by 2018, including a plant in Rhode Island. Waste-to-energy is the fastest growing segment of the renewable energy industry, accounting for $6 billion of the market in 2012, a number that is projected to increase to $29 billion by 2022.

“From today and onward, there will now be constant activity on the project until it starts producing power in the summer of 2015,” said Shlomi Palas, Blue Sphere's CEO, in a statement. “We have started the project on time and will produce and deliver power on schedule. This facility is a model for future Blue Sphere projects.”

Waste-to-energy plants are effective on two fronts: they produce clean energy while at the same time keeping waste out of the landfill. The technology is catching on around the globe, with facilities in 35 countries, combusting about 130 million tons of solid waste each year.

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