Food scraps could power St. Louis Park apartments

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St. Louis Park could be home to a new sustainable community powered by an organic waste "digester," the first of its kind in the state.

Minneapolis-based PLACE, a nonprofit dedicated to building sustainable communities, aims to build zero-waste apartments, studios and work spaces at the former McGarvey Coffee site on Highway 7 in part because of its close proximity to bike paths and the planned light rail station at Woodland Avenue, the Sun Sailor says.

“We live in a society where we don’t think of where our food and energy comes from and where our waste goes,” Developer Chris Velasco of PLACE told the Star Tribune. “There is real value in having people understand how these things work together. It ends up making living more affordable and reduces their footprint at the same time.”

This sustainable community would feature what's believed to be the state's first anaerobic digester for residential use, Tim Farnan, an organics recycling specialist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, told the Star Tribune.

Anaerobic digesters are typically used on dairy farms to turn manure and plant waste into energy (click here for a diagram of how it works). In the St. Louis Park development, the digester would turn organic food-scrap waste into biogas that would power an engine to produce energy. The liquid fertilizer from the digester would be used to grow food in greenhouses on the property, the Star Tribune says.

The digester would turn food scraps into biogas in 21 days and would convert 35,000 tons of organic waste per year, producing about a megawatt and a half of energy, the Star Tribune says. The development would also have other forms of sustainable energy and be connected to the power grid as backup.

A 2010 report by the Environmental Protection Agency reported that 157 digesters are operating in the United States on commercial farms, five of those in Minnesota. There are also about 1,500 digesters that operate at wastewater treatment plants throughout the nation, according to the American Biogas Council.

Sanimax, an environmental solutions company, recently got approval to build a $30 million digester at its South St. Paul plant, the Pioneer Press says.

The city of St. Louis Park is working to rework its ordinances to permit anaerobic digesters.

“We like the sustainable idea; it’s innovative,” Meg McMonigal, city planning and zoning supervisor, told the Star Tribune. “We’re working on the ordinance, and then they would come back with a plan.”

PLACE's proposal to Hennepin County also includes the possibility of St. Louis Park and Hennepin County using the anaerobic digester for organic waste that is already being collected. Currently, the county transports such waste nearly 50 miles away for composting, the Sun Sailor says.

If accepted, the digester could be running this fall, and the mixed-use development ground-breaking could be in 2015, according to St. Louis Park's website.

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