UW Anaerobic Digester: Food Waste, Renewable Energy & Public Health: Feasibility

Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $10,000

Letter of Intent:


This Feasibility/Pilot Study would evaluate a) Site Location b) Custom-Design Review c) Ongoing Maintenance requirements for building a 160-square foot anaerobic digester on the UW Seattle Campus. The anaerobic digester would utilize food waste to produce renewable energy (biogas) and compost. The biogas and compost could be used for research projects by professors/students, and the methane gas could be used to generate electricity or power water boilers on the UW campus. The food waste would be provided by the UW Husky Union Building (HUB).

Environmental Impact:

An anaerobic digester would have three main environmental impacts on the UW Seattle Campus:

  1. Carbon Emissions: the anaerobic digester would utilize approximately 135lbs of food waste per day, so less food waste would be hauled from the UW campus to Cedar Grove Composting Facility. Reducing the amount of food waste that is hauled to Cedar Grove would reduce carbon emissions from garbage/waste disposal trucks that drive from UW to Cedar Grove.
  2. Soil Health: an anaerobic digester would produce nutrient-rich compost that could be applied to the UW farm and Center for Urban Horticulture (and other locations on campus).
  3. Renewable Energy: an anaerobic digester would be a small-scale model of how to generate renewable energy from food waste. The food waste is broken down by microbes, which produce methane gas, and the methane gas can be used to power a motor for electricity, heat water boilers, and other uses.

Student Leadership/Involvement:

Student interest and leadership is primarily coming from a UW Registered Student Organization (RSO), called Global Sustainability Initiative (GSI). The undergraduate members include: Caelan Wisont, Zhaoyi Fang, Yushan Tong, and Kyler Jobe. GSI focuses on promoting sustainability on a global scale, emphasizing household-scale anaerobic digestion projects to create methane gas for stoves. GSI grew out of SafeFlame LLC, which was started by a UW MBA graduate (Kevin Cussen), and received a CSF grant in 2015-2016. GSI also connects interested students to anaerobic digestion projects and gets students excited about working with anaerobic digestion, renewable energy, and public health.

Education, Outreach & Behavior Change:

We will conduct education/outreach for this project by:

  1. Sustainability Studio (ENVIR 480): conduct a 15-20 minute presentation for the undergraduate students in this course at the beginning of each quarter, starting in Winter Quarter, 2018. ENVIR 480 focuses on sustainability, and a previous group of students from this course conducted a research project on anaerobic digestion. In Fall 2017, Aaron Flaster met with the instructor for ENVIR 480 and the instructor was open to having Aaron present to her students about the anaerobic digestion project.
  2. Global Sustainability Initiative (GSI): GSI will conduct outreach to UW undergraduate students to build their membership and raise awareness about the anaerobic digester project. GSI will conduct outreach using tabling events, Facebook posts, and flyers.

Feasibility, Accountability & Accessibility:

This is a Feasibility/Pilot Study proposal to determine whether it is realistic to move forward with a full project proposal in April 2018 to build an anaerobic digester on the UW Seattle Campus. This Feasibility Study will accomplish three goals:

  1. Site Location: conduct an extensive evaluation to find an appropriate site on the UW campus for the anaerobic digester. This evaluation will be a collaboration between the UW Anaerobic Digester Project Leadership Team, UW Grounds Management, UW Landscape Architects, UW Design Review Board, and Impact Bioenergy. Impact Bioenergy (http://impactbioenergy.com/) is a business located in Seattle, WA. Impact Bioenergy designs/builds anaerobic digesters to utilize food waste and produce renewable energy and compost. Impact Bioenergy currently operates 3 anaerobic digesters in the greater Seattle area (1. Fremont Brewing Company (Ballard facility) 2. Pleasant Beach Resort on Bainbridge Island 3. Laser Cutting Northwest/CleanTech Manufacturing Accelerator. Impact Bioenergy has also built 2 more anaerobic digestion systems that are owned and operated by those customers (4. Microsoft (Redmond Campus) 5. Crooked Shed Farm (Carnation, WA).
  2. Custom Design Review: if necessary, Impact Bioenergy will conduct a custom-design evaluation to tailor the anaerobic digester to the available site. If the available site does not require a custom-design anaerobic digester, then the funds in this Feasibility Study that are meant for Impact Bioenergy will be used towards the full proposal in April, 2018.
  3. Ongoing Maintenance: determine whether the Sustainability Coordinator staff position (part of Grounds Management) can be the position that maintains the anaerobic digester on an ongoing basis (i.e. bring food waste from HUB anaerobic digester and monitor anaerobic digester readings, such as pH, temperature, etc.). With the permission of Grounds Management, we will have the Sustainability Coordinator log how many hours it would take to bring ~135 lbs of food waste from the HUB to a potential site location, every day for 5 days.

Leadership Team:

Dr. Heidi Gough, PhD, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, hgough@uw.edu Dr. Sally Brown, PhD, School of Forest Resources, slb@u.washington.edu Dr. Marilyn Ostergren, PhD, UW Renewable Energy Liaison, ostergrn@uw.edu Aaron Flaster, BA, Research Coordinator, Department of Psychology, aflaster@uw.edu Global Sustainability Initiative (Registered Student Organization), gsiuw@uw.edu

Budget Estimate:

Total $10,000

  • Impact Bioenergy: $9,900 (custom-design evaluation/full project review)
  • Sustainability Coordinator: $100 (1 hr per day, 5 days, moving food waste from HUB to potential site)

Contact Information:

Aaron Flaster, B.A.
Research Coordinator, Department of Psychology, University of Washington
Work email: aflaster@uw.edu
Cell #: 206-616-7934

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Aaron Flaster