John Hanselman, Founder & CEO
What usually happens to the organic waste generated by food manufacturers and retailers? It either ends up in a waste incinerator or disposed of in a landfill where it rots and becomes a significant source of methane—a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. But what if there was a way to turn all of this organic waste from a liability into an energy asset? While solar, wind, and hydropower have grabbed the headlines as clean energy solutions for years, we have just begun to scratch the surface of the potential of a new renewable, low-carbon energy source—organic waste. Food manufacturers, distributors, and retailers want to become better stewards of the environment and ensure a greener tomorrow, and are willing to invest in waste recycling solutions that make good business sense. This is where Massachusetts-based Vanguard Renewables, a national leader in organicsto- renewable energy projects, is moving the needle in support of the food industry and the environment. “We create magic out at the farm by converting food and beverage waste into renewable energy and deliver a one-stop shop for companies to really change the way that they impact greenhouse gas emissions,” says John Hanselman, founder and CEO of Vanguard Renewables.
Through a zero-waste closed-loop lifecycle, the company combines unusable food and beverage waste and farm manure to generate clean, renewable energy and low carbon fertilizer. Committed to reducing on-farm and food-generated greenhouse gas emissions from waste, Vanguard Renewables is creating value for businesses, farms, communities, and the planet.
Hanselman further explains that it is often challenging for food and beverage manufacturers to find a national renewable natural gas platform that can responsibly recycle food waste and utilize it for future good. With almost 115 farms across the U.S. under contract, the company is building the infrastructure to aggregate and recycle food waste from manufacturers and retailers across the country. Moreover, Vanguard Renewables has the capability to depackage and process expired goods, off-spec batches, or unsafe to eat food and beverage products. “Be it tuna in a tin or a sack of flour that has gone off spec or out of date, we’ve built a full mechanical separation capability in our facility so that we can take virtually any form of organic material, separate the good stuff from the bad, and transport and recycle it to generate clean energy,” comments Hanselman.
Vanguard Renewables has developed a program with large corporate food manufacturers, wherein they inventory the waste streams at all of the client facilities and devise a solution for them to segregate the organic waste streams that can be recycled. The company also provides customers with valuable metrics on the amount of renewable energy generated from the waste, the carbon intensity of the process, the impact on environmental standards, and more. Not just that, Vanguard Renewables helps manufacturers connect their work to the farm and vice versa, thereby creating a closed-loop where they make a difference for the environment together.
As a testament to the capabilities of Vanguard Renewables, Hanselman recalls their engagement with one of their clients, a large ice-cream manufacturer. The manufacturer generated a huge volume of waste—both raw and packaged materials—when cleaning out the different flavors and washing all the systems. This wash water was then sent to a wastewater treatment plant, which in no way was beneficial for the community or the environment. Vanguard Renewables stepped in, collected all of the wash water, and transferred it to a farm. The sugars and nutrients in the wash water served as nourishing food for methanogens that play a vital role in converting organic matter into natural gas. Vanguard Renewables also took the packaged materials to its depackaging facility to mechanically process and separate the packaging from the food material. The food material was sent to the farm to produce renewable natural gas while the packaging was recycled, enabling the client to meet their sustainability goals.
In an effort to strengthen its commitment to a low-carbon future, Vanguard Renewables has created the Farm Powered Strategic Alliance in collaboration with major food manufacturers like Unilever, Starbucks, and Dairy Farmers of America. The company is aiming to partner with more like-minded companies that are looking to distribute information on the best practices to boost food waste reduction and waste recycling while decarbonizing plant operations by replacing fossil fuels with natural gas utilization. “We have over a hundred farms in 17 states across the U.S. that have committed to be part of our network and where we are building organics recycling and anaerobic digestion facilities. That is a major expansion of both our vision and our plan and we couldn’t be more excited about it,” Hanselman notes.