• 06.06.12

The Muckbuster Turns Trash Into Power, Right In Your Backyard

Well, probably not your backyard, but large businesses generating organic waste can skip the trash removal (and the electric bill) by throwing it all in their new on-site digester and methane power plant.

There’s plenty of ways to keep trash out of the waste stream: up-cycling, incineration, or recycling among others. What about turning it into energy before it ever hits the landfill.


That’s the strategy behind UK-startup Seab Energy and its portable digester, the Muckbuster. An on-site composter and power plant that takes up the equivalent of a handful of parking spaces, the Muckbuster sits outside any store, restaurant or building converting tossed organic materials–like the millions tons of food and drink thrown out every year–into heat and power.

The idea of composting, or even turning methane into energy, is nothing new. Composting has been a standard way to divert old food scraps and organics from the waste stream, and landfill methane gas is a notable source of power. Yet most organic matter must be trucked to a central location, and shipped back to fields where it is applied. Meanwhile, methane gas emitted during this process often enters the atmosphere accelerating climate change. Wasteful.

The ideal solution would efficiently compost on site, capture and burn the gas for energy, then allow easy collection of the waste –rich, fertile compost–to ship it wherever it needs to go.

That’s the idea of the Muckbuster. Full of machinery, digesting basins, filters, and electrical generators, the digester’s real machinery are the bacteria primed to digest just about any organic matter from grass clipping to manure (human and animal). During the course of a month, the company reports just 200 gallons of slurry can emit enough methane to power the average U.S. home. The leftovers get pasteurized and sent back back to the soil.

The company is targeting medium-sized businesses that consistently produce waste, such as fruit packers and the hospitality and agriculture industries. It’s still a little pricey for the backyard: the standard Muckbuster sells for about $150,000, while a larger version retails for $450,000. But Seab Energy figures the system can earn back its cost within two to six years using grants and incentives available in the U.K., United States, or France.

About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment.