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Digester Turns Waste into Power for Brewery and Indoor Farm

By Casey Cora | November 13, 2012 6:34pm | Updated on November 20, 2012 3:33pm

BACK OF THE YARDS — A new high-tech system at the experimental vertical farm is turning trash into treasure.

The system, which takes in nasty waste and converts it into energy, is being installed at The Plant, where it will power aquaponic farms and even beer and kombucha breweries.

The anaerobic digester, will be constructed outside the converted meat packing facility turned “social enterprise” at 1400 W. 46th St., which aims to create an eco-friendly food production facility.

The contraption, which looks like a giant tank, will be filled with spent grain from the brewery, food waste from the commercial kitchen and neighborhood restaurants and fats and grease from nearby rendering and meatpacking plants.

Once mixed together, those materials produce a concoction of methane and carbon dioxide known as biogas that will feed a generator providing heat and power to the 93,500 square foot building and its tenants, including New Chicago Beer Co.

The Nov. 9 groundbreaking brings the facility one big step closer to complete energy independence.

“That energy will be used in energy-intensive activities, such as brewing beer [and] lighting the farm spaces” The Plant president John Edel said during the groundbreaking ceremony, according to Chicagoist.

“Using renewable energy will hopefully change how food is produced everywhere. It will bring renewable energy into our jobs, our communities, and into how we produce food,” he said.

The machine is built by Eisenmann, a German manufacturing giant with its U.S. headquarters in Crystal Lake.

Eisenmann mechanical engineer Tom Grapz said The Plant's new system is a departure from typical digesters, which take cow manure and mix it with other forms of waste to create biogas. He sees the action at The Plant as a catalyst for urban farms across the country.

"It's going to open up a whole new market segment," he said. "Instead of trucking waste hundreds of miles to a landfill, you utilize the energy source on the site."

The project will cost an estimated $3 million and is partially funded by state grant money and loans from the Chicago Community Loan Fund. It is slated for completion by 2013.