Ideal business models create profit from a problem. Vanguard Renewables of Weston, MA, is one such example. The company’s vice president of sales Ray Duerr recently presented at the 191st New York State Agricultural Society Forum about the next step in anaerobic digestion: incorporating food production waste.

The main problem he and the company seek to solve how to keep waste out of landfills and manure out of waterways. He noted that the U.S. produces 1.37 billion tons of manure and wastes 119 billion pounds of food every year. Much of the food waste comes from food processors that have no way to use it. When left in a landfill, that can create problems.

“Manure and food waste combine for roughly 8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions,” Duerr said.

He previously operated landfills. He always wondered why he couldn’t do something better. That “something” is Vanguard Renewables, founded in 2014. The company builds and installs anaerobic digesters, some of which also process food waste.

Farm digesters help solve food waste problems

Ray Duerr’s company, Vanguard Renewables, builds manure digesters. Photo by Deborah J. Sergeant

So far, the company has connected with 179 food waste providers whom Duerr calls “partners.”

The food waste for the digesters comes from food processors to an organic recycling facility, where wrappers, containers and other debris are removed. Manure and food waste go into the digester on the farm, creating renewable natural gas and, from the manure solids, clean bedding for animals.

“It takes 30 days at 104º in a ‘crock pot,’” Duerr said of the entire process.

The equipment presses the clean solids into bedding, which farmers report works better than the sawdust they had been using.

“Cows had infections from the sawdust, but not with solids,” Duerr said.

The success of Vanguard lies in the solutions it provides. Their digesters solve issues for farms – too much manure and expensive bedding and energy costs – and for food processors – excess food waste. The digestion process also keeps manure out of waterways, another boon for supporting the environment.

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant