Commonwealth Organics-to-Energy

Organics-to-energy technologies are those that take certain types of waste – including organic materials such as food, animal or yard waste, and convert it to electricity or heat. Some organics-to-energy systems also produce valuable compost or liquid fertilizer as byproducts.

The benefits of organics-to-energy systems, which are usually sited on farms, food processing plants or wastewater treatment facilities, can include:

  • diversion of organic waste from landfills or incinerators,
  • generation of renewable energy,
  • reducing dependence on other fuels,
  • manufacturing of materials that improve soil health or productivity.

One type of an organics-to-energy facility is an anaerobic digester, which uses microorganisms to break down organic materials to produce methane, which, in turn, can be used to generate heat or electricity.

Photo courtesy of Randy Jordan, Jordan Dairy Farms, Rutland

Additional Resources

MassCEC Awards $1.1 Million for Clean Energy Projects

Announcement Date: 
Monday, July 13, 2015

Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) CEO Alicia Barton today announced $1.1 million in funding for three projects across Massachusetts that will convert organic materials into energy.

“Supporting the adoption of clean energy projects across the state means we’re helping organizations and businesses cut energy costs and protect our environment by generating local sources of energy,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “We hope these projects inspire other organizations to make the switch to clean energy.”

Each award will support the development of anaerobic digestion facilities in the communities of Bourne, Freetown and Hadley.

Anaerobic digestion is a process that converts a variety of organic material – that would otherwise be considered waste – into electricity and heat. These projects are intended to use these materials as a fuel to generate energy and heat. MassCEC is funding these projects to help three organizations operate systems that reduce waste, cut energy use and generate local sources of energy. 

“By transforming waste into energy, these projects will cut energy use while creating home-grown sources of renewable energy,” said Barton. “We’re proud to collaborate with these private partners to secure a clean energy future for Massachusetts.”

The funding comes from the Renewable Energy Trust, which was created by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1998 as part of the deregulation of the electric utility market. The trust is funded by a systems benefit charge paid by electric customers of investor-owned utilities in Massachusetts, such as Eversource or National Grid, as well as municipal electric departments that have opted to participate in the program. The average monthly charge is 32 cents for an average residential ratepayer.

There are 13 anaerobic digestion systems installed across Massachusetts that generate the equivalent to the annual energy consumption and heat generation equivalent of approximately 4,500 and 9,500 households, respectively.

MassCEC awarded three grants to the developers of the following projects:

·         Harvest Power (Bourne) - $400,000: Developers will design and build an anaerobic digester to process wastewater treatment sludge, food waste, fats, oils and grease. The system will combine biogas from the digester with gas from Bourne’s adjacent landfill to provide electricity to the grid. 

·         Stop & Shop (Freetown) - $400,000: S&S Freetown, LLC will construct a digester located at Stop & Shop’s distribution center. The facility will process unsold food from Stop & Shop’s regional stores to generate electricity and heat, supplying about 32 percent of the distribution center’s electricity needs.

·         BGreen Energy, Barstow’s Longview Farm (Hadley) - $309,716: BGreen Energy will upgrade its current 300-kilowatt anaerobic digestion system at Barstow’s Longview Farm, adding a second 500-kilowatt generator, in-ground receiving tank and other equipment. These upgrades will increase electricity production at the farm by about 108 percent, as well as increase heat production. The existing digester produces liquid fertilizer, animal bedding and hot water for use on the farm.

"Harvest Power is excited about the potential to bring a new clean energy project to the town of Bourne," said Kathleen Ligocki, CEO of Harvest Power. "In the spirit of true public/private partnerships, the grant from MassCEC helps attract private capital to commercialize innovative clean technologies and bring them to Massachusetts communities."

“We are thrilled that Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is partnering with us on our journey to reach ‘zero’ waste by 2020,” said Mark McGowan, president of Stop & Shop New England Division. “Our Freetown anaerobic digester is one example of the many ways we operate our business in a socially and environmentally responsible way, giving us energy to run our Freetown Distribution Center that services all of our Stop & Shop New England stores.”

“The continued support of MassCEC has allowed us to continue to show the nation how to maximize the effectiveness of renewable energy on our dairy farms using materials from waste, which become electricity and fertilizer,” said Bill Jorgeson, managing partner of BGreen Energy. “We sustain our farms, create jobs and have 24/7 available power capacity for the Commonwealth.”

Anaerobic digestion is a biological process by which microorganisms break down organic materials, like food or animal waste, to form a methane-rich gas. This gas is then used to run an electric generator or generate heat. The remaining “digested” material is rich in nutrients and can be used as a fertilizer or soil additive. 

MassCEC Awards $2.3 Million for Organics-to-Energy Projects

Announcement Date: 
Friday, July 12, 2013

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) awarded 18 grants worth $2,374,968 to advance the development of facilities that convert commonplace organic waste materials into heat and electricity during the Fiscal Year 2013 (July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013).

These grants were issued through the MassCEC’s Commonwealth Organics-to-Energy program, which focuses on technologies that generate energy from inputs like food waste, yard waste, animal manure and sewage sludge, without direct combustion.

The 18 grants were awarded to public and private entities for the construction of facilities, for studies, and for other activities that lead to better ways to use organic matter as an energy source rather than dispose of it in landfills or incinerators.  The principal technology supported is anaerobic digestion.

Anaerobic digestion is a biological process in which beneficial microorganisms break down organic matter in the absence of oxygen, resulting in the formation of biogas.  The main component of biogas is methane, which is also the main ingredient in natural gas.  Anaerobic digesters are enclosed vessels that provide ideal conditions for the biological reactions to take place.  The digesters also contain the biogas so that it can then be used to run a generator or heat a boiler. The remaining “digested” material is rich in nutrients and can be used as a fertilizer or soil amendment.  Anaerobic digesters are already in use at several wastewater treatment plants in Massachusetts, most notably the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s Deer Island Treatment Plant.  Two dairy farms in the Commonwealth also use anaerobic digesters to generate electricity and produce fertilizer from cow manure combined with pre-consumer food waste. 

MassCEC awarded five construction grants totaling $1.75 million to the developers of the following projects:

  • AGreen Energy, Barstow Farm, Hadley.  Dairy farm will install a digester to process manure from the milking barn plus liquefied food waste.  The biogas will be used to run a generator for heat and electricity for use on the farm as well as export to the grid.
  • AGreen Energy, Bar-Way Longview Farm, Deerfield.  Dairy farm will install a digester to process manure from the milking barn plus liquefied food waste.  The biogas will be used to run a generator for heat and electricity for use on the farm as well as export to the grid.
  • Commowealth Resource Management Corporation, Dartmouth.  A digester to run primarily on source-separated food waste will be constructed at the Greater New Bedford Regional Refuse Management District’s landfill.  Biogas from the digester will be combined with landfill gas to generate electricity sold as wholesale power.
  • NEO Energy, Fall River.  Digester will be designed to accept expired supermarket foods and other source-separated food wastes.  The biogas will fuel electric generators to produce electricity for the grid.
  • NEO Energy, Millbury.  Digester will be designed to accept expired supermarket foods and other source-separated food wastes.  The biogas will fuel electric generators to produce electricity for the grid.

In addition, MassCEC awarded $624,968 to 12 public entities and one non-profit for studies and other services related to the development of new anaerobic digestion systems, or the use of existing wastewater digesters to co-digest food wastes.  The awardees for these grants were the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District, the Town of Lexington, the Town of Hamilton, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the Town of Millbury, the City of Fitchburg, the City of Brockton, the Town of Greenfield, the Town of Barnstable, the City of Easthampton, the Town of Ayer, and the Town of Plymouth; the Franklin Park Zoo received a grant to study the feasibility of co-composting animal manure, yard wastes and food-concession waste, and recovering the natural heat from the process to make hot water and run a greenhouse.

Patrick Administration Announces Plan to Ban Disposal of Commercial Food Waste

$4M in grants, low-interest loans available for converting organics to renewable energy
Announcement Date: 
Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) officials today announced a proposed commercial food waste ban and funding to support anaerobic digestion (AD), a process that converts food waste into renewable energy.

“Banning commercial food waste and supporting the development of AD facilities across the Commonwealth is critical to achieving our aggressive waste disposal reduction goals,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan. “These policies and programs will continue the Patrick Administration’s commitment to growing the clean energy sector in Massachusetts, creating jobs and reducing emissions.”

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has proposed a commercial food waste ban, to take effect by July 1, 2014, that would require any entity that disposes of at least one ton of organic waste per week to donate or re-purpose the useable food. Any remaining food waste would be required to be shipped to an AD facility, a composting operation or an animal-feed operation. Residential food waste is not included in the ban.

To harness the energy in organic waste, the Patrick Administration has made $3 million in low-interest loans available to private companies building AD facilities. The low-interest loans will be administered by BCD Capital through MassDEP’s Recycling Loan Fund, with monies provided by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER).

“Many grocery stores and environmentally conscious businesses across the state currently divert their food waste, saving money in the process,” said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell. “Diverting food waste to AD facilities creates value by reducing the waste stream, tapping into the energy within food wastes, reducing greenhouse gases, and producing a byproduct that can be resold as fertilizer or animal bedding.”

 “Anaerobic digestion is yet another proven clean energy technology that supports the Patrick Administration’s energy goals,” said DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia.  “By working together and leading by example, we are building the infrastructure to support clean, renewable energy generation and address a challenging organics waste issue with a solution that meets multiple economic and environmental goals.”

DOER is also making $1 million available in grants for anaerobic digestion to public entities through MassDEP’s Sustainable Materials Recovery Grant Program. MassDEP and DOER have awarded the first AD grant of $100,000 to the Massachusetts Water Resources Agency (MWRA) for its wastewater treatment plant at Deer Island plant. The MWRA currently digests sludge in 12 large chambers to help run the plant. A pilot project will introduce food waste into one of the chambers to determine the effects of co-digestion on operations and biogas production.

“The legislature and the regulatory agencies in Massachusetts have taken important steps to create a positive environment for private companies such as ours to make significant investments in the development of anaerobic digestion projects,” said Tony Callendrello, Chief Operating Officer of NEO Energy.

“I am pleased to see Massachusetts continue to make investments in recycling and in the reduction of waste in our landfills,” said Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “As the Commonwealth continues to lead the rest of the country in our green policies and practices, this commercial food waste ban provides one more example of the cost savings and environmental benefits that are available when we set a clean energy target and innovate solutions to achieve it.”

“I appreciate the efforts of the Patrick administration in being open to technologies that will pave the way for more innovation, opportunities for new businesses and a funding source for dealing with food waste, which has become a growing environmental issue,” Rep. Anne Gobi, Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

"Thanks to the Patrick Administration, Secretary Rick Sullivan, and MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell, the Commonwealth is taking the lead in the nation in innovation through a commercial food waste ban and by funding energy-producing anaerobic digestion facilities,” said Sen. Gale D. Candaras, Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. "Through these dual initiatives, the Commonwealth is paving the way for public-private partnerships to develop a new, environmentally-friendly, renewable energy-producing industry which will not only keep our communities clean but also create jobs and revenue."

Food waste and organics make up 20-25 percent of the current waste stream going to landfills and incinerators. The proposed food waste ban would help the Commonwealth reach its goals to reduce the waste stream by 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. To ensure that there will be sufficient facilities in Massachusetts to handle the waste resulting from the ban, MassDEP is working with the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to conduct feasibility studies to build AD facilities on state-owned land.

AD facilities have become more popular in Massachusetts in recent years at facilities such as dairy farms, municipal landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Over the past year, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) has awarded 18 grants worth $2.3 million to study, design and construct AD and other organics-to-energy facilities across the Commonwealth.

“Massachusetts companies are again leading the way in the deployment of this exciting technology, which, in addition to producing environmental benefits, will create quality jobs in the already-booming clean energy sector,” said MassCEC CEO Alicia Barton.

This DOER funding comes from the 2010 and 2011 Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) Spending Plan.  ACPs are paid by electric retail suppliers if they have insufficient Renewable Energy Certificates to meet their compliance obligations under the Renewable Portfolio Standard programs. DOER establishes the plan for use of these funds to support clean energy development in the Commonwealth.

AD is a process that puts food and yard wastes, and other organics, into an enclosed chamber with no oxygen. Microbes inside the chamber break down the organics and produce a biogas that can produce electricity and heat. The electricity and heat is used in place of fossil fuels, reducing emissions. For more information about AD, visit MassDEP’s website: