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Mav Roundup

Waste Not

Researcher turns food waste into fuel

Illustration by James Fryer

Illustration by James Fryer

Melanie Sattler is interested in your food—not so much what you eat, but what you throw away.

A professor of civil engineering, Dr. Sattler is leading the UTA portion of a North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) project funded through the Environmental Protection Agency that will determine how much more energy can be generated by diverting food waste from landfills to anaerobic food digesters. Anaerobic food digestion can convert food scraps into biogas to help with energy needs.

“Food waste breaks down in landfills and produces methane, which can be used for alternative energy,” she says. “Often, though, the active part of the landfill doesn’t have a cover for two years. A lot of the gas escapes. The alternative to capture more of the gas from food waste is to use an anaerobic digester.”

There are eight wastewater treatment plants with digesters around the region. Sattler says sending the food waste to these existing or new digesters would produce a better yield of biogas.

“Reducing food waste and maintaining adequate landfill capacity are goals for the growing region,” says NCTCOG Executive Director Mike Eastland. “With this award, we can assess the amount of food waste that could be used to support development of future anaerobic digestion infrastructure and renewable energy projects in the region.”

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