It started with a simple initiative: I wanted to start composting our food scraps at the Tufts European Center in Talloires, a quaint, sleepy town in the French Alps. The staff were producing lots of food scraps from all the meals we cooked. Maybe I was more inspired than usually by all the beautiful natural scenery around me, but for some reason I just couldn't stand to see them all go in the trash.
Ever since I was a kid I had hated seeing things go to waste. When I first started learning about renewable energy in Tom McKibben's (brother of 350.org founder Bill McKibben) third grade class, I drew an "everything recycling machine" that could turn garbage into energy. But despite being heavily involved in the renewable energy field for over a decade, I'd somehow never come across anaerobic digestion. This speaks to how little air time many promising technologies get in mainstream renewable energy discussions.
So I started training the European Center staff on how and what organic waste to separate from the normal trash, and began building a small compost pile in the backyard. When George Ellmore, an eccentric biology Professor at Tufts got word of my compost project, he began assailing me with great enthusiasm about the many benefits of compost. "Do you know how much energy those little digestion bugs can produce?" he said to me on one of these occasions. That caught my attention.
So I began researching energy from compost. Maybe it was because Google knew I was in the French Alps, but I soon came across the work of Jean Pain, a frenchman who used to live in the same region of the French Alps, and who in the 1970s had developed a famous method for turning organic waste into energy.
The "Jean Pain Method" as it's called, involved using the heat produced from a large compost pile to heat water for his home, as well as to heat and insulate an anaerobic digester at the center of the pile. The anaerobic digester would then produce biogas, which he stored in tire inner tubes, and used for cooking.
Jean Pain's work spawned an entire industry in Europe. Today, the anaerobic digestion industry consists mainly of large, centralized plants that collect organic waste from an entire city or a large farm, and convert the biogas produced into electricity, which is sold to the national grid. These plants are complex, expensive pieces of industrial machinery that require government subsidies to make them economical.
I founded Everflux Technologies in order to bring anaerobic digestion back to the human scale - and it's inherent simplicity, which Jean Pain demonstrated. Ultimately, to make anaerobic digestion work, all you need is a sealed container. Because of this, cheap, low-tech, distributed digesters are highly prevalent in India, where families turn their food scraps into biogas for cooking. But in colder climates, these containers need to be heated and insulated. And in order to make such a device easy enough for a commercial kitchen to use, it needs to be highly automated.
That's exactly what Everflux is out to create. Check out the Flux Omnivore and stay posted to learn more.
When I moved to Toronto a few months ago, I was looking for a fresh start. I've spent the last decade passionately pursuing entrepreneurial ventures involving sustainable technologies, from promoting community wind in New England, to organizing environmental events in Beijing, China, to scaling rooftop solar in California. This time, I was looking for a place where I could find the people and the tools I would need to develop a new technology that could turn food waste into renewable energy and fertilizer... without ever leaving the building.
Within a few weeks of arriving in Canada, I found Site 3 Colaboratory. It's one of the oldest member-run maker spaces and fabrication workshops in Toronto. Makers come to Site 3 from all over Canada to work on interesting and unusual creations of art and technology. It was the perfect place to start working on my project.
A few weeks after becoming a member, I discovered that the novel "incinerator toilets" that I'd been introduced to when I first arrived were not just someone's science project. They were a necessity at Site 3, because the building had no connection to the city sewage and water lines. The not-for-profit had been wanting to install a flush toilet for years, but the city was making it prohibitively expensive to do so.
It was then that I realized Site 3 had an actual need for my project. The technology I wanted to build, commonly called an anaerobic digester, has the ability to sterilize and reduce human waste, while turning it into methane gas and fertilizer. We could use this device to treat toilet waste without connecting to the city's sewage lines. Furthermore, we could collect rainwater to supply the system, and recycle the grey water that would be produced by having a sink.
In other words, we could design a sustainable, onsite waste management system that would never require a connection to the city infrastructure.
In addition to helping out Site 3, this project will also serve as a “proof of concept” for the new technology we are developing at Everflux, the Flux Omnivore.
Onsite waste management is nothing new, but it's rarely found in urban areas of Canada and the United State. Furthermore, this system will be the first in North America to incorporate an anaerobic digester inside a building, which will capture methane to generate renewable energy.
I hope you will join us in embarking on this pioneering project by donating to our Indiegogo campaign. I will continue to posts updates relevant to the project here as we move into construction of Phase 1 .
~Daniel Enking, CEO, Everflux Technologies
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.