[Scpg] Onions produce tears and energy at an Oxnard plant/Innovations for a Blue Economy

Margie Bushman, Coordinator, SBCC Center for Sustainability sbpcnet at silcom.com
Mon May 17 10:49:39 PDT 2010

Onions produce tears and energy at an Oxnard plant
A farming company uses juice from the vegetable 
to run a fuel cell. It's one of a growing number 
of businesses that use their waste to produce electricity.
July 17, 2009|Tiffany Hsu

After more than 20 years farming onions, Steve 
Gill still breaks out in tears at his processing facility.

Only now he's crying all the way to the bank.

He recently began using juice from his pungent 
crop to create energy to run his refrigerators 
and lighting. That's slicing $700,000 annually 
off the electric bill at his 14-acre plant in 
Oxnard. He's also saving $400,000 a year on 
disposal costs. And he has secured more than $3 
million in government and power company incentives to do it.

Gill figures the $9.5-million system will pay for 
itself in less than six years while eliminating 
up to 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions a year.

"It's a great sustainability story, but it was 
first a business decision to solve a waste 
problem," said Gill, 59, who co-owns the company 
with his brother David. "But in doing so, we 
solved a lot of environmental problems too."

Gills Onions is one of a small but growing cadre 
of U.S. companies generating their own 
electricity on site with waste from their 
production processes. In addition to plant 
material, firms are using a variety of 
feedstocks, including animal manure, vegetable oil, whey -- even beer.

The massive upfront costs limit the appeal of 
these so-called closed-loop systems. But volatile 
energy prices and the rising cost of waste 
disposal are compelling more firms to take a look.

Farmers and processors in California's 
$37-billion agricultural industry in particular 
are looking for ways to save money and reduce 
their environmental footprint, said Sonia Salas, 
science and technology manager for the Western Growers Assn.

"Many growers want technology that helps them 
handle waste," she said. "This is a concept that 
other operations can definitely use."

The system at Gills Onions, which will be 
unveiled to the public today, converts methane 
from fermented onion juice into energy burned in two on-site fuel cells.

The company has farms throughout California that 
send onions year-round to the Oxnard plant, where 
they are skinned, diced, sliced or packaged whole 
in a numbingly frigid facility by 400 employees. 
The vegetables are then shipped all over the 
country to wholesalers and retailers such as Ralphs.

Machines slice off about 40% of each onion. That 
leaves 150 tons of waste a day. For years, the 
Gills spread these leavings as fertilizer over 
their fields or sold them as cattle feed. But the 
refuse was expensive to handle, and it posed a 
hazard to the atmosphere and groundwater.

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Santa Barbara Permaculture Network
    an educational non-profit since 2000
(805) 962-2571
P.O. Box 92156, Santa Barbara, CA 93190
margie at sbpermaculture.org

"We are like trees, we must create new leaves, in 
new directions, in order to grow." - Anonymous

First Annual Southern California Permaculture Convergence August 2008
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