Harvest Power, a Waltham, Mass.-based company, provides biogas plant services in Orlando, processing up to 120,000 tons of organic wastes annually to produce 5.4 MW of combined heat and power.
Biomass Magazine argues that the success of the Florida plant shows that the U.S. market is ripe for more plants of this type:
"Henry at quasar acknowledges that the digester industry in the U.S. is still relatively new compared to the developed industry the in Europe, where Germany alone has more than 6,800 systems in operation. But to her, failure is not an option. “Every project that puts a shovel in the ground needs to be well-planned, skillfully designed, responsibly financed and expertly operated,” she says. “When projects fail, the reputation of anaerobic digesters and the potential for the industry is brought into question.”" (source)
Is It Green? Are anaerobic digesters a sustainable way to create energy? If used this way, absolutely. A tremendous amount of food waste (about 30 million tons) goes into landfills each year, accounting for 18% of all municipal wastes. Use of such wastes for composting is growing, and perhaps that channel is a more direct application for food wastes, but the reality is that composting demand may never catch up with the American propensity for food waste.
One Caveat.The only real dark side to biogas technology is that the plants can accept almost any form of organic matter. This has always been the weakness for biofuels. They encourage some farmers to abandon food crops and switch to fast-growing products that can be sold directly to biofuel facilities. That being said, biogas "digestion facilities" in the U.S. seem so far to have avoided that slippery slope.
Like most of the modern digesters, the Florida plant is selective about what types of waste it accepts. This list is from their website:
All meat and fish
All fruits and vegetables
Cereals and grains
Bakery waste, including dry goods like flour
Restaurant food scraps
Cafeteria food scraps, plate scrapings
Meat and fish processing wastes
Grease trap waste
Liquids like milk, soda, or beer
Packaged food waste
Food processor byproducts
No Wastes containing anti-bacterial chemicals
No municipal solid waste
No Non-food-related industrial wastes
No Leaf and yard debris
No Waste with 5% or more inorganic contamination
No painted, stained, or otherwise treated wood.