Cargill partners with communities to turn waste into energy
Environmental innovation isn’t always about mind-dazzling new technologies. In fact, as often as not, it’s about finding new ways to use existing technologies by forging mutually beneficial partnerships. That’s what Cargill did in the United States, when it partnered with the City of Fargo, North Dakota.
From odor-reducing to energy-producing
|Cargill's Fargo, North Dakota plant receives nearly one-third of its thermal energy needs from the city's landfill.|
Fargo had installed a system to collect the gas produced by decomposing garbage at its landfill located near a Cargill’s oilseed processing plant. Initially the system was designed to simply burn off the methane to reduce the odor (which was generating lots of complaints from nearby residents) and mitigate the negative environmental impacts associated with releasing all that methane into the atmosphere. But the folks at Cargill had other ideas: why not burn the methane to meet some of our needs for thermal energy and reduce our use of natural gas?
A promising idea becomes reality
“Cargill is constantly seeking new ways to operate plants in a more efficient and environmentally sound manner,” said Tom Katalinich, who was the facility manager at the time. “When we figured out a way to convert landfill gas into a useable energy source, we worked closely with city officials to turn a promising idea into reality.”
The city and Cargill shared the cost of building a 1.5-mile pipeline from the landfill to Cargill’s plant. Both partners expect to recoup their capital investment—and then some. Fargo generates revenue through the sale of landfill gas—and Cargill saves money because landfill gas is cheaper than natural gas. The plant currently receives nearly one-third of its thermal energy needs from the landfill. (Another renewable source, the burning of sunflower hulls, supplies another third and the rest comes from natural gas.)
The Fargo initiative, up and running since 2002, annually offsets the greenhouse gas emissions of about 8,700 automobiles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It was modeled after an earlier Cargill initiative in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
In addition to Fayetteville and Fargo, Cargill has facilities in Des Moines, Iowa, and Bloomington, Illinois, that burn methane recovered from landfills or wastewater treatment plants. Several other plants may install similar systems, if and when market conditions make it feasible.