June 18, 2008 | General

Composting Company Forges Ahead With Organics Diversion (Argentina)

BioCycle June 2008, Vol. 49, No. 6, p. 51
Success with a facility processing industrial food residuals and other by-products spurs a Buenos Aires company to target MSW.
Nora Goldstein

ABOUT 45 minutes outside of Buenos Aires, Marcos Neumann and his partner, Geoffrey Pratt, operate a windrow composting facility that receives about 1,000 metric tons/month of separated by-products from food processors and a tobacco company. Their company, Biociclo S.A. was started by Pratt as a sideline enterprise about 20 years ago. “I was looking for some acreage outside of Buenos Aires where I could grow plants and vegetables, and saw a tiny advertisement for worms,” recalls Pratt. “As part of my worm breeding operation, I started composting chicken manure from a farm next door, and gradually moved on to other feedstocks. I would sell the worms and the castings. About six years ago, I met Marcos, who wanted to get involved with composting in the Buenos Aires region. Since then, we have upgraded and expanded this operation, and now are getting involved in other projects.”
Biociclo’s composting facility is on a seven-hectare site in the city of General Rodriguez, in the province of Buenos Aires. There are four employees. Both liquid and solid residuals are received. Initially, liquids were unloaded into an open basin, but the odors generated complaints from nearby neighbors. Now, tanker trucks unload directly into windrows. The primary feedstocks received are coffee by-products from a plant manufacturing instant coffee, tobacco processing residues, and meat processing wastes. Liquids include a corn processing by-product and occasionally various alcohols, including a vermouth concentrate, beer and wine. “We add the liquids to the windrows that are in the thermophilic stage to ensure they will go through pathogen reduction,” says Neumann.
An inoculant is made from the thermophlic compost and used as a starter when there is a predominance of coffee waste. “Usually the mix of tobacco, coffee and the meat processing by-product have the necessary C:N ratio to get the process going,” he adds. “But we get more coffee than any of the other feedstocks, so sometimes we need to use the starter.”
The quantities of each feedstock received, recipes for each windrow, temperatures and turning frequency are meticulously tracked in a data management system. Data is kept on each truck making deliveries, including source, date received, quantity and where it went. Liquid additions are tracked as well. “Basically, we have the life of the windrows from beginning to end,” says Neumann. “We have developed a protocol where everything is done in a specific manner with no deviation. That way, if there is a problem, we can quickly narrow down where to look for its cause and determine how to solve it.”
This data tracking is equally important for the vermicomposting operation, as well as compost marketing. “We take samples from the piles and analyze them for pH and conductivity,” adds Pratt. “Those two factors are very important to worms, as well as plants.”
Vermicomposting, Expanding Markets
Piles are turned once a week for the first month, then every other week. Materials are composted for four to five months before worms are introduced into the windrows. “We put a windrow of fresh compost next to a windrow with finished vermicompost,” explains Pratt. “We stop adding water to the windrow with worms, and start adding it to the fresh compost. The worms naturally move over to the new windrow, and we take the finished compost to be screened.” Not all windrows go through a vermicomposting phase.
The facility sells both compost and vermicompost. Its products are certified organic. Materials are screened via a trommel that also is equipped with manual bagging stations. Compost production has increased significantly over the past several years, from about 20 cubic meters/month to 300 cubic meters/month. Local markets include sports clubs and golf courses. “We are working to reduce the conductivity of the compost from 1.2 to 1, which will enable us to sell it for horticultural plants such as roses,” says Neumann. “Some horticultural amendments are being imported from Holland and Japan, so if we can service that market, the economics would be very favorable.” The company also sells compost to vineyards in the Mendoza region, which is about 1,000 km away, as well as olive growers. Transportation costs, however, are very high.
Biociclo’s data tracking system facilitates creating blends of finished compost for end users. “By tracking it through
the entire process, we know which windrows we can mix together to meet a specific customer’s requirements,” he adds. “For example, an olive grower needs one type of product and a golf course needs another. Our operations are set up to meet those needs.”
The composting facility is regulated by the province of Buenos Aires. It needs to be recertified every two years. Biociclo has a list of approved feedstocks, which are designated as “no-special waste.” Proof of the biannual certification is given to the factories sending them feedstocks, which those companies need for their regulatory compliance.
New Initiatives
A new project that Biociclo is involved in is a composting facility being developed by a private company at the CEAMSE landfill. The facility will receive about 1,000 metric tons/day. “The compost plant will start out as a pilot, receiving 400 tons/day of mixed municipal solid waste,” explains Neumann. “The organic waste will be sorted out. We are designing the plant and will sell them our inoculant as a compost starter. The finished compost will be used for landfill cover.”
The primary motivation for this company to move forward with the project is carbon trading, says Neumann, although preserving capacity in the landfill is of interest as well. “The landfill has about four years left, and CEAMSE has been facing difficulty siting a new landfill. But what really is motivating them are the carbon credits. The money to support the composting project will come from carbon trading.”
Biociclo is proposing an enclosed facility that will compost the organic fraction of the MSW in aerated bays. A trommel screen will be used to sort the incoming waste. Material will be turned in the bays with a bucket loader; process air will be treated through a biofilter. Neumann experimented with various designs, including engineering and constructing a pilot-scale agitator that would ride along the top of concrete bays. “We built the unit at our composting site, and we had a lot of mechanical problems,” he says. “That’s why we plan to mix and agitate the piles with a bucket loader.”
Biociclo is working with food processors in other regions to set up on-site composting operations. One example is a lemon juice factory that processes lemons from area groves about six months of the year. The waste is very acidic, and currently gets discharged into a nearby river. “The waste is causing major water quality problems in the river, so we have been talking with the company about setting up a composting operation,” says Neumann. “The company could distribute the compost back to the lemon groves.”
“Our long-term plan is to establish plants in different places in the country. For example, the corn processing plant that sends liquids to our composting facility is 120 km away. We would like to establish a composting plant on-site, then market the compost for the company.”

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