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Tina Casey headshot

Cleveland Browns Roll Out New Food Waste-to-Energy System

The Cleveland Browns football franchise plans to showcase its food waste-to-energy system at a big home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 24. The new system, called Grind2Energy, is the first of its kind at any NFL stadium. It reclaims food scraps for conversion into renewable methane gas, rather than sending it to a landfill where it would decompose and add methane (a potent greenhouse gas) to the atmosphere.

For those of you who follow clean energy news regularly, Grind2Energy isn't new as in "new rocket science" new. It's basically a highly efficient system for hauling slurry from on-site garbage grinders to off-site biogas digesters.

What's really striking about the demonstration is that a pro football franchise would go out of its way to showcase something as humble and off-topic (off-topic to sports, that is) as sustainable food waste management. So, what's up with that?

New life for old food scraps

The food waste recycling system is based on InSinkErator grinders. If that name doesn't ring a bell in terms of sustainability, InSinkErator is an Emerson company, which is well known here at TriplePundit for its work in the smart buildings field.

InSinkErator describes the system as "rethinking the way we can dispose of something as simple as an orange peel,” and that is certainly the case.

After the grinders go to work in a kitchen, the resulting slurry is sent directly to a holding tank rather than going into the general waste plumbing system. The contents of the tank are then trucked off to digesters, which are basically environments in which microorganisms literally digest the food waste slurry, emitting methane-rich gas as they munch.

The system addresses a number of problems at once. In terms of global warming, the clear benefit is to convert bio-waste directly into methane that can be burned off and used as fuel, a process which releases less greenhouse gases than decomposition in an open landfill.

Similar systems are becoming commonplace at municipal wastewater treatment plants and livestock operations (food waste from the Cleveland Browns operation will be combined with cow manure, by the way).

The ripple effect of reclaiming bio-methane is to reduce the reliance on methane from destructive fossil fuel harvesting methods, namely fracking, but that's just the start.

InSinkerator claims that its closed system helps keep the stadium's food franchises odor-free while reducing the potential for insect and rodent infestation, which cuts down on the need for cleansers, deoderants and disinfectants.

The slurry-to-tank system is also more compact for transportation, reducing the number of trucks needed to haul away food waste.

Piling on one additional benefit, the digestion process results in an inert (as in, non-smelly) material that can be marketed as a natural fertilizer.

Food waste recycling and the NFL

Now let's get into the real nitty-gritty. What could the Cleveland Browns have to gain by drawing their fans' attention toward garbage, specifically something as gross and odoriferous as food waste?

If you're having trouble answering that question, think about what any sports franchise would have to gain by encouraging their fans to drink beer. The answer, of course, is revenue.

Take a look at the Grind2Energy connection in those terms, and the answer is clear. There are thousands of commercial kitchens in the U.S., and showcasing the bottom line efficiencies of Grind2Energy in an NFL venue is sure to reach more than a few stakeholders and decision makers in those enterprises.

Now consider that the Grind2Energy showcase is just one part of a multi-year, multi-partner U.S. Department of Agriculture program called Dairy Power - Food Waste Repurposing to Renewable Energy and Nutrients.

Dairy Power builds on the Obama Administration's AgStar program, which aims to reclaim manure for biogas production while helping livestock farmers save money and reduce environmental impacts.

Dairy Power takes it to the next level by partnering dairy farms with commercial food waste generators as well as hospitals, schools and other institutions, with the ultimate goal of sending 100 percent of their organic waste to biogas digesters rather than landfills.

Aside from InSinkErator, Emerson Electric and quasar energy group, the food service company ARAMARK is also a partner.

The Cleveland Browns franchise is actually just the first in a rollout planned for the NFL through 2014.  According to the USDA, if Grind2Energy or similar systems are adopted throughout the NFL, about 620 tons per year of food scraps will be diverted from landfills.

That translates into a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 465,000 pounds per year, along with the creation of almost 87,000 pounds of natural fertilizer.

It's also worth noting that the Cleveland Browns' home turf is FirstEnergy Stadium, after the regional utility company FirstEnergy. While FirstEnergy is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels and nuclear energy, it has been retiring its older coal power plants and it has a considerable amount of renewable energy in hand and plans more for the future.

Not for nothing, but if the Cleveland Browns can take time out from football to talk to their fans in the food services industry about the bottom line benefits of reclaiming manure and food scraps for renewable energy, maybe our friends in the mainstream media could take 30 seconds off the Obamacare newsmill to spread the word about this great opportunity for business owners, too.

[Image cropped): Cleveland Browns by Erik Daniel Drost]

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Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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