Monday, July 20, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not...

The Pacific Coast Business Times profiles a rather unusual-- but potentially effective and very lucrative-- energy venture in Oxnard.

Gills Onions is the largest onion processor in the country. It processes about a million pounds of onions a day and employs 400 people. The company, which used to compost its "onion waste" in a field, is now turning it into energy.

We've read about all sorts of odd biofuel ventures, so the company's project in and of itself is not that interesting. However, the environmental and economic statistics rattled off by the Times, are head turners.

The old practice of composting the onion waste certainly sounds environmentally friendly, however, decaying onions creates greenhouse gas emissions and requires lots of diesel truck trips to and from the field. Factor in tipping fees and field labor and, all of a sudden, this doesn't sound like such a a great option.

The onion-to-energy process generates 600 kw of power and makes the company eligible for a pretty sizable payout from the state. The Times reports that Gills is in line to get $2.7 million from a state program that promotes programs such as this. All in, the company spent more than $9 million on the techology, but it estimates that it can pay for itself in six years.

Net-net, the Times reports that, "Turning the waste into energy instead will save the company $700,000 in electricity costs, $400,000 in land-application costs and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30,000 tons annually."