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.
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.