New Technology Converts Onion Waste to Energy
Gills Onions, a family-owned processor of fresh onions in Southern California, slices more than 800,000 pounds of this foodservice staple every day. Due to the nature of the peeling and slicing processes, more than 40 percent of the total onion mass is lost, creating a huge amount of agricultural waste that used to be unsustainable and costly.
Company founders Steve and David Gill had a problem on their hands. They were spreading as much of the byproduct as possible over other fields, but it was affecting these crops and they needed a better solution.
Though nothing like this had been created before, the company embarked on a research project that took more than 12 years and resulted in one of the most innovative, sustainable facilities in the world. Using anaerobic reaction technology and a power generator, the company can generate enough electricity to supply 100 percent of the baseload requirements of the plant. That eliminates 200,000 pounds of peelings from the waste totals per day, not to mention the significant greenhouse gas reductions due to the transportation pollution that was eradicated.
What the Gills’ team did was put together a crack team of engineers with both foodservice and energy experience to develop the technology to extract and digest the onion juice, then convert it into methane gas which is treated, compressed and used to power the plant. The remaining onion pieces that cannot be converted into juice are used for animal feed, further reducing total waste. The Gills team is proud that they are currently 99.8 percent sustainable with only hairnets and gloves going into the landfill. That’s a huge accomplishment.
Gills has set the trend in foodservice for this sort of energy recovery system, leading the way for like-minded companies to create their own systems that can only improve the industry’s overall carbon footprint. The Gills family asserts that their goal is to recycle as much onion waste as they can, stating that though it’s a budget saver for the company, it’s also accountability to the environment.