Brewing, buying biogas: OARDC campus at Wooster now runs on 30 percent green energy

Rotten produce. Animal fat. Bad soda. Manure. OARDC's Wooster campus is going to waste.

And that's a good thing.

The campus is using agricultural and food-processing wastes to meet nearly a third of its 12-megawatt-hour annual electricity needs. That's 3.6 MWh of green energy, or enough to power 313 average U.S. homes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Many U.S. colleges and universities are turning to renewable energy sources to meet some or all of their power needs. It's part of a growing trend that also involves the implementation of sustainability initiatives such as the construction of "green" buildings and comprehensive campus recycling.

While most of these institutions, including Ohio State's Columbus campus, have turned to solar and wind to reach their alternative energy goals, OARDC's Wooster campushas gone about it differently -- by employing anaerobic digestion technology, which turns a variety of organic wastes into biogas that is used to power a generator to make electricity.

"Our ideal goal is for this campus to become carbon-neutral. To do that, we need an energy source that goes through the carbon cycle, which anaerobic digestion does."—OARDC Associate Director Dave Benfield

This renewable energy is produced by quasar energy group, a Cleveland-based company that in 2010 built its flagship anaerobic digester in OARDC’s BioHio Research Park. The 550,000-gallon digester can process 30,000 wet tons of biomass annually, keeping a variety of refuse out of landfills and incinerators. 

"Our setup is very different because we have a private company located on campus that we partner with, and which produces the biogas, converts it to electricity, and sells it to us," said John Ott, head of OARDC's Facilities Services department.

"Most other schools run their own power-generation facilities, whether solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, or biogas."

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-- Mauricio Espinoza, Communications & Technology