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Managing Energy, Water, and Information Flows for Sustainability across the Advanced Food Ecosystem

Faced with a growing population and a shrinking pool of natural resources, society faces an unprecedented challenge to provide a resilient food supply, made even more complex by vast inefficiencies and resulting food waste generated across the food supply chain. For the 40% of food that never reaches human consumption, the significant energy and water resources that went into its production are lost, and new environmental challenges emerge, such as greenhouse gases emissions from landfilling food waste, the conventional management practice in the US.

Principal Investigators:

Sponsor(s):

Abstract:

Faced with a growing population and a shrinking pool of natural resources, society faces an unprecedented challenge to provide a resilient food supply, made even more complex by vast inefficiencies and resulting food waste generated across the food supply chain. For the 40% of food that never reaches human consumption, the significant energy and water resources that went into its production are lost, and new environmental challenges emerge, such as greenhouse gases emissions from landfilling food waste, the conventional management practice in the US. While sustainable alternatives exist for converting food waste into clean energy resources or value-added products and can lead to economic growth and environmental benefits, widespread adoption of these practices is limited by a lack of knowledge about food waste composition and location, inefficient technologies for converting mixed waste streams, and inconsistent food waste policies. To address these challenges, the PIs will make fundamental advances in understanding and improving the technical feasibility, economic costs, and environmental benefits associated with new technologies, policies, and waste infrastructure designs for sustainable food waste-to-energy systems. The planned scientific advances in food waste minimization and management are expected to catalyze new industries and jobs in the US, by translating research findings for stakeholders in the industrial and policy sectors, and to enhance the next generation workforce, through educational partnerships with the Rochester City School District and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

This project will combine insight from sustainability, engineering, policy, geospatial informatics, and ecology with a goal to create and evaluate novel, integrated solutions for minimizing food waste and improving resource efficiency across the food supply chain. Fundamental empirical and analytical research will be carried out through interconnected lines of inquiry, wherein new empirical data will be generated to characterize food waste stream heterogeneity in terms of geospatial variability and chemical composition. These data will be used to parameterize novel geospatial optimization models to identify preferred waste management system design (e.g., large-scale, centralized systems vs. drop-in, decentralized technologies) and to evaluate alternate policy strategies for waste minimization (e.g., food waste landfill ban or incentives program for food donation). Finally, three innovative food waste valorization technologies will be evaluated: food waste pre-treatment via vacuum cycle nucleation, combined anaerobic digestion-pyrolysis systems, and biogas conversion via high-temperature proton exchange membrane. Combined, these efforts will result in the first comprehensive evaluation of how physical and chemical properties of regional food waste streams vary over time and space, and in the development of fundamental relationships between waste heterogeneity and optimal policy, systems, and technology solutions. In addition, all proposed solutions will be evaluated using “nexus thinking,” which will quantify holistic tradeoffs, such as waste minimization, net energy consumption, life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, impact to freshwater ecosystems, policy compliance, and economic costs.

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Articles produced by this research:

Win, Shwe S. and Ebner, Jacqueline H. and Brownell, Sarah A. and Pagano, Susan S. and Cruz-Diloné, Pedro and Trabold, Thomas A.. “Anaerobic digestion of black solider fly larvae (BSFL) biomass as part of an integrated biorefinery,” Renewable Energy, v.127, 2018. doi:10.1016/j.renene.2018.04.093

Armington, WA and Chen, RB. “What to Do with All This Food? Examining the Emerging Food Waste Hauling Network in Western New York State,” Transportation Research Board 97th Annual Meeting, 2018.

Armington, William R. and Chen, Roger B.. “Household food waste collection: Building service networks through neighborhood expansion,” Waste Management, v.77, 2018. doi:10.1016/j.wasman.2018.04.012