MuckBuster brings "waste-to-energy in a shipping container" to a canteen near you

Offices, hospitals, hotels and schools could soon generate renewable heat and electricity from leftover food scraps thanks to an innovative new waste-to-energy technology deployed in a standard shipping container.

Developed by Southampton-based SEaB Energy, the MuckBuster uses conventional anaerobic digestion (AD) technology to generate biogas from waste food that can then be used to produce electricity and heat.

However, in an effort to encourage the deployment of the waste-to-energy technology at commercial properties SeAB Energy has developed a way of installing the AD unit in a standard shipping container, which is then attached to a gas collection unit that is the size of half a shipping container.

“Our aim is to package and productise AD so that it can be sold as a product, rather than a solution,” explained chief executive Sandra Sassow. “We want to replace the dumpster at the back of the building with a system that can generate energy.”

The smallest system requires half a tonne of food a day with the largest supporting up to 2.5 tonnes, and Sassow predicts the technology will prove attractive to a wide range of businesses and facilities that produce high levels of food waste, including supermarkets, schools, hospitals, small farms, hotels, large offices, and potentially apartment blocks.

A school or college that produces 0.5 tonnes of kitchen waste a day, for example, could generate enough power to run 121 Apple Mac mini computers for eight hours, allowing it to effectively run a computing department using onsite renewable energy.

The company is in the process of installing the system – also branded as SEaB MB400 for non-agricultural firms who do not want their food to be referred to as “muck” – at three unnamed sites, including an office park, a fruit and veg packaging facility, and an agricultural college. In addition, the firm is in talks with a food manufacturer about installing the system at one of its facilities.

Sassow said the company had developed a dual sales model whereby customers can either purchase the system, priced at between $150,000 and $450,000, or sign a power purchase agreement where SEaB installs the technology at no upfront cost and sells the energy to the facility.

“The payback periods are between two and five years, depending on the quality of the feedstock,” she added. “Once you take incentives like the UK’s Renewable Heat Incentive into account we’re typically seeing rates of return between 20 and 30 per cent.”

In addition, the system promises to deliver significant emissions reductions with even the smallest unit reducing methane emissions by 40 tonnes a year.

SEaB is currently seeking investment and partners to scale up production and support a global rollout of the technology. As such Sassow is taking part in the Clean and Cool trade mission to San Francisco this week and has held talks with a number of prospective investors with a view to raising between $4.5m and $15m.

She explained that the level of investment was likely to vary based on the extent to which the company pursues the power purchase agreement model, which requires SEaB to bear the upfront costs of deployments.

She also revealed that the firm was seeking sales and distribution partners in the US and other overseas markets. “There is huge interest in the US in waste-to-energy, so we’d like to bring a partner on board who can tap that opportunity,” she said.

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