Editorial: Ecological Inspiration

BioCycle December 2004, Vol. 45, No. 12, p. 4

Nora Goldstein

 


When we were planning  the field trip for BioCycle’s National Conference in Philadelphia last June, someone mentioned that we might want to tour the Burlington County (New Jersey) Resource Recovery Complex and the Rutgers University EcoComplex. We were familiar with the biosolids composting plan at that site, and knew that a research and educational facility associated with Rutgers was there as well. When I called about scheduling a time to visit, the message on the telephone greeting said thanks for calling the EcoComplex, describing it as home to such companies as Acrion Technologies, Garden State Ethanol, HydroGlobe and TerraCycle. Right then and there, I had a feeling that my visit was going to be anything but a typical tour of a landfill site with some sideline research projects.

When I returned from the visit, carrying a bag of ripe, red tomatoes, I couldn’t stop talking about what a fascinating day it had been. The tour started with a look at the Acrion wash system, which cleans landfill gas to produce raw methane and food-grade C02. Plans were in the works to install a liquid natural gas fueling system right outside, testing use of the condensed methane in two trash collection vehicles. Talk about closed loop recycling – trucks go out on their collection route, unload at the landfill, then refuel with cleaned and condensed landfill gas on the way out! Talk about ecological inspiration!

Next, we took a quick look at the landfill bioreactor, wood recycling operation and the biosolids composting facility, before pulling into the greenhouse parking lot. Outside is a mini power plant, featuring four 30 kW microturbines that convert landfill gas into electricity for use in the greenhouse. (Landfill gas also is used to fuel the boiler, which provides the heat to enable year-round production.) The 46,000-sq. ft. greenhouse is used primarily to grow tomatoes, using plant production systems developed at Rutgers University. As we entered the greenhouse, I noticed many clear garbage bags filled to the brim with empty plastic soda, water and juice bottles. A glance to the left brought a compost tea brewer, bottling line and fish tanks into view. TerraCycle, one of the companies in the EcoComplex, has a small vermicomposting operation in the far back corner of the greenhouse. Compost then is brewed to make a liquid fertilizer, which TerraCycle packages in the recycled plastic bottles. Talk about ecological inspiration!

The fish tanks house crops of tilapia, which are raised in another part of the greenhouse as part of the EcoComplex’s aquaponics project. Wastewater from the fish tanks is used to fertilize hydroponic plants. Grown tilapia are sold to local fish markets. Talk about ecological inspiration!

So now you see how I ended up coming back from the tour of a “landfill site” with a bag of tomatoes (which were the closest thing to home grown garden tomatoes that I’ve ever tasted coming out of a greenhouse). A flow chart on page 28 of this issue paints the whole picture of existing and planned resource recovery and business and technology development that is taking place at the EcoComplex and the Burlington County Resource Recovery Complex. Part I (see page 28) focuses on the history of this inspiring facility. Part II will provide more details on the various projects and companies within the Rutgers EcoComplex.

Our excitement about this discovery in Burlington County, New Jersey has much to do with the messages that BioCycle has been delivering for the past 44 years. Composting, anaerobic digestion, land application, wood recycling, landfill gas conversion, C&D debris recovery and all the other systems and technologies we feature are the core components of the infrastructure we have all worked to create. But all of us know that what we are doing day-to-day is part of a much greater renewable resource management world. The projects in Burlington County embody how to connect our passion, vision and grit of daily labor into a sustainable, hopeful world. We extend our best wishes to everyone for the holiday season, and an ecologically inspired 2005.

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