I recently had the chance to go with my Farm & Food group to tour Gills Onions, one of the largest onion growers and processors in North America, in Oxnard CA. Who knew that onions could be transformed from food waste into valuable, renewable energy.
Gills Onions grow their onions mostly in the central agricultural area of California andsome in Imperial Valley of southern California, and process them for industrial, foodservice, and retail industries in their Oxnard facility. Their first major client to boost their production was La Victoria salsas.
With greater volume of onion processing came a major problem: peeling and processing the onions left a tremendous amount of waste. Each day they generate 300,000 lbs. of onion waste. They began disposing of the waste by re-incorporating it into their onion fields. But the volume grew too large.
It came to a point where the disposal of the onion waste was costing $450,000 each year. The company teamed up with the University of California at Davis to build an innovative system that converts the onion waste, including peels and juice, into a methane-rich biogas which in turn powers two 300-killowatt fuel cells that provide up to 60 percent of the operation’s power needs with almost no greenhouse gas emissions.
The Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS) has made Gills Onions the first food processing facility in the world to produce ultra-clean energy from its production waste, converting 100% of the daily onion waste into renewable energy and cattle feed, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and saving $700,000 in annual electricity costs.
The combination of the energy produced, cost savings generated and grant funding for renewable energy projects will result in a full payback of the $10.8 million total system cost in less than six years.
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