Over the last decade, Elizabethtown College has been reusing food waste while providing a learning opportunity for its students.
It began with Joe Metro, the college’s former director of facilities management and construction, said Eric Turzai, the college’s director of dining services.
Metro had been working in the mid-2000s with Brukaber Farms in East Donegal Township on a project that would have generated electricity from the college’s organic waste. It never came to fruition. But in 2009, the college was approached by a company called Somat about the possibility of field-testing a new waste pulping system that would reduce the volume of organic material and allow for reduced water consumption in the college’s main dining facility, called the Marketplace.
Fast forward 10 years, and the college, Brubaker Farms and Somat are working together to collect and reuse food waste to create electricity and ancillary products.
The process has an academic component as well. Jeffrey Rood, an associate professor of chemistry at Elizabethtown College, has been teaching courses connected to it for several years.
“Just last year, I started teaching a first-year seminar about energy and I use this project as a case study/example of some local ways we can generate energy and be mindful of waste,” Rood said.
From dish room to dairy farm
Turzai said the college’s process begins in the dining hall’s dish room, where paper products are separated from organic waste such as apple cores, banana peels and pizza crust. The organic waste is dropped into a trough-like component and then conveyed to a machine that he likens to a garbage disposal in that it chews up the food waste. Water is extracted from it, leaving behind a pulp-like substance.
Elizabethtown paid an estimated $40,000 for the system eight years ago, according to Steve Eno, an engineering manager for Somat, which was founded in the Coatesville area in the 1950s but has been located in the Greenfield Industrial Park in East Lampeter Township, Lancaster County, since the early 2000s. Today it’s a subsidiary of Illinois Tool Works. The cost can rise to $300,000 depending on the complexity of the system.
Elizabethtown College takes the water and food-waste pulp to Brubaker Farms, which then feeds them into an anaerobic digester, along with cow manure.
Turzai said the methane gas produced by the digester is harvested and used to run a motor for a generator to create electricity. According to the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy website, “The generator produces 200 kilowatts a day, enough to power approximately 200 local homes through the local utility grid.” The website also indicates that the system’s excess heat is also used to pre-heat water for the dairy operation.
The digester also produces a dried manure that’s used on the farm as ultra-hygienic bedding for the cows, while the liquid portion of the digested manure serves as a replacement for commercial fertilizer. Turzai said the fertilizer, which is 98 percent bacteria free, is used not only on the farm, but also shared with the college and applied to a one-acre organic garden that is on campus and tended by students. The garden produces an average of 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of vegetables annually, which he said is used in the college’s dining room and on its catering menu for summer conferences.
Turzai said that since the new pulper system was installed in 2010, overall water consumption in the dining facilities has been cut by 80 percent and annual waste-hauling charges were cut in half to $15,000. The compactor also is capable of holding 10 to 12 tons of non-recyclable waste and is now removed from the school once a month instead of every two weeks.
“This is a win-win-win,” Turzai said. “We’re doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint, but it also reduces cost. It’s also a win for Brubaker Farms and for our students, who have a hands-on learning opportunity,” Turzai said.
Rood said feedback from students about those hands-on learning opportunities tends to be positive.
“At first, students might find the idea of working food waste a bit gross, but they enjoy the process of forming a hypothesis and designing an experiment to test it. They also connect to these experiences because it is all happening right here at the college,” Rood said.
Joined by state senators and representatives, Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday unveiled a new climate action plan for Pennsylvania.
Also at the press conference, Wolf announced Pennsylvania is joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 24 states that are trying to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions along the lines of the 2016 Paris Agreement, a global climate accord that was rejected by the Trump administration.
“States like Pennsylvania must take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect our communities, economies, infrastructures, and environments from the risks of a warming climate,” Wolf said.
The Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan includes more than 100 steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through actions such as increasing reliance on renewable energy, incentivizing energy efficient buildings and increasing the use of electric vehicles.
Robert Freeman, Pennsylvania state representative, (D-Northampton County), said that while the Climate Action Plan is a proposal and not law, legislation is being introduced by Representatives Steven McCarter and Carolyn Comitta in the House and Senator Steve Santarsiero in the Senate that would require the Alternative Energy Portfolio law to increase renewable energy use to 30 percent by the year 2030, referred to as “30 by 30.”
Wolf explained that changes like these can help return the earth’s temperature to pre-industrial levels, prevent further global warming and potentially curtail severe weather.
“Last year was the wettest ever recorded in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said, describing the recent flooding experienced by Pennsylvania as “devastating.”
“We must take additional steps to do our part to reduce climate change.” he said. “We need to get this done.”
He said change will be difficult and pose significant challenges. However, he believes the changes to be made are “smart decisions that are good for our economy.”
Sen. Jay Costa, (D-Allegheny County) echoed Wolf’s statements that the changes will be good for Pennsylvania’s bottom line, by saving money and growing “good paying jobs in Pennsylvania.”
Leaders of Nuclear Powers Pennsylvania, on organization that advocates for nuclear energy in the state, see the governor’s plan as a win for nuclear power.
“We have 16,000 team members working right now to support Pennsylvania’s nuclear industry all doing their part to create always-on, 24/7 carbon-free electricity,” said Martin Williams, co-chair of Nuclear Powers Pennsylvania in a news release.
Williams also said that the Beaver Valley and Three Mile Island nuclear power plants face closure without reforms like those proposed in the Climate Action Plan.
The action plan is third in the 10 years since state law began requiring the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to develop a climate plan and make periodic updates.
The day isn’t quite around the corner when Pennsylvania drivers will be able to find charging stations for their electric vehicles the same way they can find gasoline stations. But it is getting closer.
At Duquesne Light Co. in Pittsburgh, leaders have been testing a number of initiatives to encourage installation of charging stations, including one that offers $32,000 to commercial customers who install charging stations on their premises, said Sarah Olexsak, manager of transportation electrification at Duquesne. The money can cover installation costs and electrical service upgrades for a minimum of four Level 2 charging stations per site, according to the company’s website.
The program is part of an overall effort to encourage use of electric vehicles, or EVs, said Olexsak.
Most EV owners will charge their cars at homes, she and others said. But they then face “range anxiety,” Olexsak said, which is the concern they might not be able to get back home unless there are charging stations where they can add power while they shop or work. The Duquesne program encourages commercial customers, such as shopping centers or sporting venues, to offer the service. Some might provide free charge-ups as a customer amenity, while others might assess fees.
As one part of the effort to encourage electric vehicles in Pennsylvania, the state Public Utility Commission has been approving methods for companies to handle the sale of electricity at charging stations. The moves are intended to promote investment in charging stations by removing obstacles that initially were intended to protect consumers. Under state law, landlords are prohibited from getting electric service into a building and then charging renters a mark-up.
Charging stations operate at three levels, largely based on how fast they charge a vehicle.
LEVEL 1: A charger that plugs in a regular, 120-volt household outlet. Vehicles will get about five miles of range per each hour of charging.
LEVEL 2: A charger that has a dedicated circuit similar to an electric clothes dryer. It has 240 volts. Vehicles will get a range of about 10 miles to 25 miles per hour of charging.
LEVEL 3: Fast-charging stations that are 480 volts. These can deliver up to 200 miles of range per hour of charging. Most can have a car charged up to 80 percent in 30 minutes. Sheetz has in-stalled charging stations for Tesla cars at some of its convenience stores that also sell gasoline. Source: CPBJ research and Duquesne Light Co.
The new guidelines make clear that third-party electric vehicle charging stations provide a service and are not considered an improper resale of electricity under the state code. The goal was to remove uncertainty over the regulations as a way to encourage further development of charging stations, said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, a PUC spokesman.
“Uncertainty when it comes to laws and regulations is a very strong disincentive,” he said. “By bringing clarity, it would hopefully make the state a more attractive place to invest.”
The PUC has approved plans for about half of the 11 electric distribution companies that it regulates: Duquesne Light, Metropolitan Edison Co. (Met-Ed), Pennsylvania Electric Co. (Penelec), Pennsylvania Power Co. (Penn Power) and West Penn Power Co. (West Penn Power). Allentown-based PPL Electric Utilities was approved on April 11, according to a spokesperson for the company.
The PUC does not regulate charging stations that supply a home because homeowners are paying for the electricity they use.
First Energy Corp. of Ohio owns four of the companies receiving PUC approval, including Met-Ed.
“Consider this an important piece of housekeeping to remove potential impediments from the robust development of electric-vehicle charging stations by third parties in Pennsylvania,” Todd Meyers, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, said in an emailed response to questions about the PUC approvals. “The idea is to spur investment in EV-charging stations by reducing regulatory uncertainty for would-be owners or hosts of third-party stations.”
“At this juncture, neither Met-Ed nor Penelec have created plans to roll out utility-owned chargers in the near term,” Meyers also said. “Instead, we are participating in industry discussions in Pennsylvania as a member of the Drive Electric PA Coalition.”
Meyers said that FirstEnergy has a pilot program in Maryland involving charging stations that “will provide some key data points to help us make an informed decision” about finding the right mix of utility-owned and third-party-owned charging stations.
A spokesman with PPL Electric did not directly address how its PUC approval would affect plans to enhance EV infrastructure. But Joe Nixon, strategic communications manager for PPL, said the utility supports the PUC’s efforts to beef up the infrastructure for charging stations statewide.
The PUC effort to clarify the rules started several years ago.
The clarification is important because it removes ambiguity, but it is just one piece of a larger puzzle in encouraging development of the infrastructure for charging stations, said Lindsay Baxter, manager of state regulatory strategy for Duquesne.
Other pieces of the puzzle to support growth of EV-charging stations were outlined in the Pennsylvania Electric Vehicle Roadmap released in February and prepared for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The barriers to success range from a general lack of awareness among the public about the benefits of EVs, to policy and regulatory issues, to the technological and infrastructure problems with building out a system, the report noted.
The big picture
Deborah Klenotic, deputy director of communications with the state Department of Environmental Protection, noted in an email that a number of steps are being taken to encourage develop-ment of an EV infrastructure in Pennsylvania. They include the following:
DEP is using money from a settlement with Volkswagen to fund rebates and grants for electric-vehicle charging infrastructure. DEP has issued about $1.3 million in rebate vouchers to date for projects that will add about 330 plugs for Level 2 EV charging equipment for light-duty vehicles, Klenotic wrote. “We’ll continue to take applications for rebates through 2019 or until $3 million in funds is allocated in vouchers,” she said. “DEP is also currently reviewing the first round of applications for grants for DC fast-charging projects for light-duty EVs and will continue accepting new applications for at least one more funding round in 2019.” The Volkswagen settlement involved a case in which the company was cited for emissions violations on cars sold na-tionwide.
Through the Alternative Fuels Incentive Grants program, DEP provides grants to municipalities, businesses and organizations for the installation of EV charging stations, she said. “For example, in just the past three years DEP has awarded $352,265 in grants for the installation of EV charging stations.” Klenotic said.
A new FAST Act grant program will provide funding for installation of refueling infrastructure equipment, including fast chargers for EVs, at locations within five roadway miles of U.S. Federal Highway Administration-designated alternative fuel corridors. “DEP anticipates announcing the first grant awards sometime this year,” Klenotic said.
Klenotic also highlighted points from the DEP Electric Vehicle Roadmap, developed by the Drive Electric PA Coalition. It identifies seven strategies to overcome barriers to EV use in just two years:
Develop policy or legislation to encourage utilities to invest in transportation electrification and leverage their expertise and consumer relationships to improve the electric market in a way that maximizes benefits to ratepayers and society.
Establish statewide electric sales goals.
Expand the Alternative Fuels Incentive Grants program.
Strengthen planning and investment in a statewide electric-vehicle supply equipment network and increase public awareness.
Create an education program and a cooperative program to support fleet purchases.
Develop a consumer education campaign.
Develop an outreach program to raise awareness of electric vehicles among car dealerships.
The state has more than 715 charging stations of varying types and sizes but not all are fully available to the public, the report noted. The goal would be to increase accessibility. In Pennsylvania, for example, Interstates 95, 80, 376, 90, 79 and 76 have been designated Electric Vehicle Charging Corridors. The Federal Highway Administration will use signage to help EV drivers find the charging stations “and to build awareness for non-EV drivers,” the report said.
The state also has created a program called the Pennsylvania FAST Act Corridor Infrastructure Grant. Local governments, nonprofits and businesses are encouraged to build alternative fueling stations along state roads through matching grants.
Earlier this year, as well, Gov. Tom Wolf released an executive order that requires the state to replace 25 percent of its car fleet with electric or plug-in hybrid cars by 2025 as part of a larger plan to decrease greenhouse gases.
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