St. Paul campus looks to recycle organic waste

The University could potentially turn 2,000 tons of waste into energy each year.

Allison Wickler

The University currently generates about 9,000 tons of waste each year, University recycling coordinator Dana Donatucci said, and about 6,000 tons of that is sent to the incinerator.

But a St. Paul green campus initiative, which proposes to take organic waste produced on campus and convert it into energy, is in the works.

Last summer researchers, including animal science professor Jim Linn and bioproducts and biosystems engineering professor Kevin Janni, began discussing new ways to handle organic waste on the St. Paul campus, where livestock is housed.

Donatucci estimated the University could turn 2,000 tons of organic waste into energy each year with updated renewable-energy technology.

The University currently recycles about 25 percent of its waste each year, he said.

University researchers have looked into purchasing a methane digester, which would take the methane harvested from animal waste and convert it to energy, Janni said. The current project includes other organic material such as cafeteria and yard waste.

“We think we could get a higher-value product rather than saying, ‘Haul this away for us,’ ” he said.

The project is currently in the inventory phase, when researchers determine exactly how much waste is generated on the St. Paul campus and what types of energy the University uses, Janni said.

He said they are also calculating the costs of different ways to produce energy.

Donatucci said the University pays the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center $45 per ton of waste they send to the incinerator.

A methane digester could serve not only as an energy converter, but also as a way for researchers to test digesters on a bigger scale, Linn said.

The smaller digesters in laboratories are good for some research purposes, he said, but the scale of the equipment can change the work results.

“When we go to a larger scale, it creates new problems and efficiencies aren’t always there,” Linn said.

Abel Ponce de Leon, associate dean of the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, helped launch the initiative, and said he hopes they can eventually make both University campuses “green.”

But the process takes time. Linn expects researchers to complete the inventory phase by June, so the bulk of the work on the initiative can begin in late summer.

Janni said while other schools have also considered or implemented ways to harvest energy from organic waste, having a methane digester at the University would train people in the latest renewable-energy technology.

Ultimately, he said, he hopes the project will help “get some value out of our waste.”