We've teamed up with Impact Bioenergy to bring no-money-down biogas systems to California restaurants and grocery stores.
Impact Bioenergy has designed and built the first modular, affordable, small-scale commercial anaerobic digester in North America. Through a new distribution agreement with Impact Bioenergy, and financing partnerships that will allow customers to pay a monthly service fee to use the digester, Everflux will focus on building a scalable, replicable model for deploying these digesters across California.
Impact Bioenergy's HORSE digester has the capacity to process food waste coming from a large suburban restaurant, grocery store, hospital or cafeteria, and turn it into gas for water heating or cooking. The digested material ("digestate") will then be sold as a soil amendment for urban farmers. Digestate has a similar nutrient profile to cow manure, but comes out in liquid form, making it great for hydroponics.
I first contact Impact Bioenergy in the spring of 2016 after hearing of their successful Kickstarter campaign. I was interested in buying a system to do a pilot project in Toronto and launch the business then. But a major problem emerged: without any operational history (Impact Bioenergy had only built two systems at that point, and neither were running), it was impossible to find financing for such a system. So I put the idea on hold. But a year and a half later, I saw Impact Bioenergy speak at the Biocycle Refor17 conference in Portland OR, and found out that they had five systems up and running, and a sixth had just been sold to Microsoft. Now this was something that had the foundation to scale, I thought.
Five months later, after another trip to Seattle and seeing the fledgling operation Impact Bioenergy had going there, we signed a distribution agreement.
In order to scale this deployment model, Everflux will be focusing on four things:
1) Finding a good-fit niche market in which to sell digestate as fertilizer. This, we have realized, is the key to making the distributed biogas model work - it boosts project economics from marginal to outstanding. For most large scale digesters, digestate is a liability, For various reasons, a distributed approach has a much better chance at turning the digestate into an asset. The biggest reason: each system does not product unmanageably large amounts of digestate.
2) Setting up the operational capacity to collect digestate from each system, process and package it. In order to market the digestate as fertilizer, we need a small fleet of trucks picking it up from each digester, and a small facility where we can bottle or bag the digestate for sale. As a result, Everflux's project development will take a very regional approach: we will start with the Bay Area at first, and branch out from there once we have a critical density of projects. We will eventually establish many small bottling facilities strategically placed to cover a specific region where we have projects. A hub and spoke model, like SolarCity's approach to installation.
3) Setting up the infrastructure to maintain and repair Impact Bioenergy systems. This will go hand in hand with the digestate distribution: our bottling facilities will also be operations centers, where maintenance crews can head out to nearby digesters that need work.
4) Finding a partner who will finance the projects. We've already begun talks with a financier who is interested in financing these types of projects, if we can bundle several of them together with a promise of more to come. This will necessitate approaching large chain restaurants, such as Chevy's. Panera Bread, or California Pizza Kitchen. It will also mean coming up with a highly standardized approach to project development and deployment. But with Impact Bioenergy's systems coming fully assembled in a shipping container, this prospect gets a whole lot easier.
We look forward to growing this partnership with them.
Colonizing Mars? How about the oceans first. The company Blue Frontiers is building the world's first "Seastead" in French Polynesia. And it will also be the world's most sustainable mini-city. Everflux plans to help.
I first learned about the idea of "Seasteading" at a conference in San Leandro, CA, called Prototyping The Future. It was an apt name - I had no idea how far some of these people were already sailing into the future, The final keynote address was given by Randy Hencken, then Managing Director of the non-profit Seasteading Institute, and now also one of five founders of a for-profit company called Blue Frontiers. He spoke of "colonizing the oceans" in a way that would not only protect, but restore ocean ecosystems, help humanity adapt to climate change, and relieve the resource and environmental strain of the world's crowded land-based cities.
I loosely followed the Seasteading Institute and subsequently Blue Frontiers' activity over the next nine months. The idea intrigued me, and the feeling that I somehow had to get involved wouldn't go away. I had always been interested in the idea of colonizing Mars, but having missed my opportunity to become an astronaut a long time ago, I felt like the possibilities of me ever being involved in Mars colonization were remote. But this... this was something much more accessible, and almost more admirable. "Let's learn how to take better care of the planet we've got, before going and messing up some other planet" a friend had once said to me about the idea of going to Mars. That sentiment stuck with me.
Then I read Joe Quirk's book, Seasteading. It outlines the entire, detailed case for Seasteading, addressing every reason for and against it. The book convinced me. This had to be the future. When I saw Joe and Randy at the Startup Societies conference in August, I offered to join what I soon learned was a large group of volunteers, envisioning how to make the first floating island a reality. Because this is not just a techno-fantasy - they already have a real project in the works.
In the last year there has been a flurry of media activity about the project. One such article appeared in the New York Times. The idea is to build a small floating platform off the coast of French Polynesia, in a special economic zone called a Seazone, that will showcase how larger floating cities could work. The French Polynesian government is right now considering legislation to legalize the Seazone, and after that Blue Frontiers will begin finalizing designs and planning construction of the project.
How does this all relate to Everflux? Anaerobic digesters will be really nice to have on floating cities. In fact, they may even be absolutely necessary. On a super-sustainable floating city, everything will have to be recycled. Not to mention the economics of such a project become three times better than on the mainland, because utilities like energy and waste management are typically three times as expensive.
So I've been working with the volunteer groups focused on food, water and energy, looking at how anaerobic digesters could be integrated in, as well as other sustainable technologies like solar, wind, heat pumps, water recycling, and many others. My ten plus years in the field of renewable energy and sustainability has given me knowledge of many technologies that could be useful on a Seastead.
And hopefully one day I will see my dream of recycling everything come to life on a floating island in the beautiful South Pacific.
Everflux applied and was accepted into the San Francisco Startup In Residence (STIR) Program , on a challenge to build a dog poop digester in a city park.
Did you know San Francisco has more dogs than children? Yep, approximately 120,000 of them. And while many dog owners have learned the habit of cleaning up after their dogs, that dog poop ends up in plastic bags, in the trash can. Which means eventually it ends up in a landfill.
Seeing this as a huge public nuisance, and a brown splatter on the City of San Francisco's otherwise outstanding recycling record (the city has an ambitious goal of becoming zero waste by 2020) the Recreation and Parks Department included a challenge in this year's STIR program that called on a startup to find "a park-sized, affordable solution that could convert the methane from dog poop into electricity." We applied on a whim, thinking there was a small chance we'd be accepted. Well, good things often come by surprise.
But Everflux has been focusing on building anaerobic digesters for food waste. And the difference between designing a digester for food waste and dog poop is bigger than you might think. How then, would we pivot to dog poo?
When we began doing research, we discovered that a few other cities around the world have attempted to solve this problem with dog poop digesters, with some success. Actually, it turns out building a digester for dog poop is easier than food waste. Because dog poop is a relatively homogenous material, the digestion process is not prone to upset as much as with very heterogenous food waste. Remember the last time you ate something, er, "different," and your stomach didn't feel well after? That's because digestion bacteria have a hard time adapting quickly to new food.
The biggest challenge. as we realized, would actually be getting dog owners to participate in the program. So Eric and I devised a system of rewards that would give owners an incentive to scoop, and recycle, their dog poo. By scanning a rewards card, or an app on their phone, every time they deposited their dog poop in a digester (inside a biodegradable bag), they could earn points. Those points would eventually get them discounts at local pet stores.
We've been surprised at how much interest this idea has received. When I mentioned the project during a lightning talk at the Manylabs open house on June 5th, to my surprised I received a mini-applause. Apparently people in San Francisco are sick of stepping in dog poop... or maybe they see the potential for it to become a resource, rather than a nuisance.
A sleek, tall box the size of a refrigerator sits outside your back door. Every morning after breakfast you empty the leftovers into a drawer on the side of this appliance. You close the drawer and press a button on the touch screen that says "start." That evening you cook your dinner on a gas stove, fueled by a line that runs from the same machine that you emptied your breakfast into. After dinner, you retrieve a bag full of a soft, clay-like substance from the back of the appliance, and empty it gently around the plants in your vegetable garden. A few weeks later when you pick your tomatoes, they are a bright red and taste sweeter than any tomato you've had before.
If you haven't heard, the world, and especially America, has a food waste problem. 24% of all the food produced in the world never gets eaten, and in America its as high as 40%. The vast majority of this food waste ends up in a landfill, where it releases methane emissions that contribute more to climate change than all the fossil fuels burned in India.
But until now there hasn't been an easy solution to this problem.
The bulk of this food waste is created by consumers, especially in restaurants. But even though they are the biggest culprit, restaurants have the fewest options for recycling the food waste produced on their premises. While many of us might think composting is an easy way to recycle food scraps, its not quite so simple. Food waste is much harder for an industrial compost facility to manage, because it contains a lot of water - much more than yard trimmings, for example. That water makes it hard to aerate the pile, leading to the stink that comes from compost gone bad. It may surprise you to learn that, as a result, most compost facilities don't accept food scraps. For the few that do, their operations are more expensive, so they charge a higher "tipping fee." The only alternative for the garbage man, then, is to dump those food scraps in a landfill.
The Everflux ACU (Airless Compost Unit) changes all that. By making it user friendly and automated, the AC can be located at the site where food waste is produced, eliminating the need for a garbage man to pick it up. And although there is currently very little financial incentive for restaurants to separate their food scraps, doing so to feed the Everflux ACU will save restaurants up to 25% off their monthly garbage bill.
This isn't a fire sale. It's just a more efficient way of using our resources.
So why is it an "airless composter," you might ask? By putting food waste into an air-tight container, and heating it to 55 degrees C (131 F) we can induce a natural, biological reaction that produces renewable natural gas, or "biogas." This gas can be used for all the same things natural gas can - and is especially useful to a restaurant, where cooking and water heating use a lot of energy. It also produces an organic fertilizer with a much higher nitrogen content than regular compost.
Suddenly restaurants, supermarkets, and other large food wasters will become renewable energy pioneers, and producers of a rich organic fertilizer that will be readily available in large supplies for local farms, urban gardeners and greenhouses. The Everflux ACU could not only transform our waste disposal system, but it could also speed the adoption of more sustainable farming practices and build stronger relationships between restaurants and farmers; between consumers and their food. With the higher yields that an organic nitrogen fertilizer could provide, maybe we can feed the world with just organic farming after all.
And although we are starting with restaurants, my hope is to someday make that vision of the Everflux ACU in your backyard - powering your own self sustaining and nourishing lifestyle - into a reality. Please vote for Everflux in Tech.Co's Startup of the Year competition so we can do just that.
About the Author
Daniel Enking is the founder of Everflux Technologies. He is a life-long environmentalist and practical dreamer who is obsessed with resource efficiency and imaged an "everything recycling machine" at age 10.