Alternative Fuels: CleanWorld
Robert Celaschi, Correspondent
Biodigesters have been around for decades, producing methane from decomposing plant material. The trick has been finding a way to make them pencil out. A company called CleanWorld in Gold River thinks it has found the answer.
“It primarily comes from being able to reduce the capital cost of the system,” said CEO Michele Wong. She said her company has done that by creating biodigesters in a range of set sizes.
Standardization means that a lot of the work, such as the control systems, can be assembled in a factory rather than at the construction site. The company’s plug-and-play approach also significantly cuts installation time and costs.
“You are not having to do a design-build project every time. You do the design once,” Wong said. “And once you have built the same system several times, you are able to value-engineer that system.”
But finding capital was tough. At the front end of a project, it is highly competitive to get funds, especially for startup technology, said consultant Shawn Garvey of The Grant Farm, who helped the entrepreneurs search for money. “There were very few investors in 2008 and ’09 that were interested in being part of the conversation in any real way.”
The pair finally found major backing in 2011 from Synergex, a Gold River software company where Wong also is CEO.
The first CleanWorld biodigester went into operation at American River Packaging in Natomas. The pilot plant started operating at the end of 2010, with commercial scale operation kicking off in April 2012. Waste cardboard, along with food scraps and other feedstock, goes into the biodigester’s tanks, where bacteria break down the organic material and turn it into methane. The gas is then burned in a turbine to create electricity.
At full speed, the system provides American River Packaging with up to 40 percent of its energy needs, and allows it to draw power from the grid at off-peak hours, said company owner Tom Kandris.
A second CleanWorld biodigester is located at the South Area Transfer Station on Fruitridge Road. Since going online in mid-December, the biodigester handles nearly 25 tons a day of food waste collected by Atlas Disposal Industries from food processing companies, restaurants and supermarkets. An expansion, thanks to a $6 million grant from the California Energy Commission, should raise the capacity to 100 tons a day when completed by June.
A third digester is now under construction at the shuttered landfill at UC Davis. That project is designed to process 50 tons of organic waste per day.
Much larger biodigesters have been built elsewhere, but keeping them small is part of CleanWorld’s business strategy. With capacities of 25 tons to 100 tons a day, they can be placed at a food processor or grocery store, eliminating the need to haul organic matter a long distance.
CleanWorld gets revenue from the electricity it produces and sells to customers such as American River Packaging, plus tip fees for taking organic waste. The company also has found commercial use for the residue left in the tanks.
“We are taking that effluent material, and we are adding other nutrients to it as well and creating natural fertilizer that we can sell to local farmers,” Wong said.
Now CleanWorld, which has 15 employees and annual revenue of $2 million, is getting inquiries from around the world. Once the system is perfected here, it has enormous commercial potential, Wong believes.
“It’s a huge market,” she said.
Link to online article here.