We spend a lot of time, money and resources transporting food to where people eat it, then we spend a lot more carting our waste away again. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Imagine if we could reuse more waste locally and generate energy and grow food at the same time.
With the HORSE, an intriguing machine developed in Seattle, it’s all possible.
The HORSE actually looks nothing like a four-legged animal. It’s a bio-digester that takes organic waste, like food scraps and grass clippings, and converts it into several useful products. You can take off biogas, liquid fertilizer for crops, hot air and water, and, via a generator, electricity. There’s even a little nozzle for running a gas-fired barbecue, if you feel like cooking in the open.
“It’s designed to be a community-based system,” says Jan Allen, founder of Impact Bioenergy, the company behind the unit. “The ideal applications are college campuses, individual restaurants, resorts, or islands.”
Allen says the HORSE serves communities of 50-plus people and can get through about 25 tons of organic waste per year. That’s enough to produce 5,400 gallons of fertilizer and 4.3 megawatt hours of electricity. Meanwhile, the waste heat can be used in a greenhouse, so you can grow plants all year around (you’ll eventually feed them back into the HORSE; it’s the circle of life). In short, the HORSE enables complete circularity of crops-to-waste-to crops-again, all without ever leaving the local area.
The units cost $43,300 and Impact Bioenergy has sold three so far (it’s delivering the first one now). With proceeds from its already-successful Kickstarter campaign (see video), it’s planning to build another installation to serve a brewery and some restaurants in the Seattle area. Future iterations of the HORSE will come in shipping containers, so the digester is more secure and more aesthetically-pleasing.
Allen says operating the machine takes a little training, as someone has to watch the pH and heat levels. But it doesn’t sound too hard. Anyone who’s looked after farm animals or an aquarium can do it, he says.
With several cities–like Seattle and Vancouver–now banning organic waste from entering landfills, there’s plenty of need for alternative uses for food and garden leftovers. A portable digester like the HORSE sounds like the ideal way to keep unburned methane out of the atmosphere, while supporting local food at the same time. Why not set one up on every block and in every town?