Climate Confident

Solving Climate Crisis One Waste Bin at a Time: Shawn Kreloff Explains How

August 02, 2023 Tom Raftery / Shawn Kreloff Season 1 Episode 132
Climate Confident
Solving Climate Crisis One Waste Bin at a Time: Shawn Kreloff Explains How
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Show Notes Transcript

 In this inspiring episode of the Climate Confident podcast, we had the pleasure of diving deep into the world of bioenergy with Shawn Kreloff, Founder and CEO of Bioenergy DevCo.

We had a captivating conversation about the enormous potential of organic waste. Did you know it can be transformed into renewable energy and soil amendments (natural fertiliser)? Shawn's passion for sustainable technology and innovation is infectious - it’s a topic you don't want to miss out on!

Shawn gave us an insightful walkthrough of their game-changing anaerobic digestion technology. From the complex process of converting waste to the unique smell-proof design of their facilities, it's a must-listen for everyone interested in the cutting-edge of green tech!

More importantly, we talked about the multiple environmental benefits of Bioenergy DevCo's technology. It's not just about reducing greenhouse gases and recycling water - they're helping create a sustainable farming ecosystem, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and helping rejuvenate water bodies affected by industrial runoff.

And guess what? They're not stopping anytime soon! Shawn shared their ambitious plans to continue expanding their operation and building more plants. Each new facility is an opportunity to make our planet cleaner and more sustainable.

We wrapped up with some well-deserved bragging about the recognition Bioenergy DevCo has received for their groundbreaking work. Kudos to them!

Jump in to listen and learn about how the trash of today can power and feed the world of tomorrow. It's an enlightening, hopeful vision of the future that you definitely want to tune in to.

Join us in celebrating those who are making a difference, and let's get Climate Confident together!

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Credits
Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper

Shawn Kreloff:

The great benefit to this is we're keeping the methane out of the atmosphere. We're keeping the carbon dioxide from the same process outta the atmosphere. We're returning nutrients, you know, to the soil because we're, instead of throwing this away in a landfill or an incinerator, it's being put back on farms and, and places to grow things. And last but not least, we're recycling this water too associated with what we do and repurposing it.

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast. The number one podcast, showcasing best practices in climate emission, reductions and removals. And I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice, to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to episode 132 of the Climate Confident podcast. My name is Tom Raftery. And before we kick off today's show, I would just like to welcome a new supporter of this podcast, Stephen Carroll. Stephen signed up over the last couple of days to support the podcast. Thank you so much for that, Stephen. Much appreciated. If you'd like to become a supporter of the podcast and you're not already, I'd like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like minded individuals who are passionate about climate. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable with options starting as low as just three euros. That's less than the cost of a cup of coffee and your support will make a huge difference in keeping this show going strong. To become a supporter, simply click on the support link in the show notes of this or any episode or visit tinyurl. com slash climate pod. Now, without further ado, with me on the show today, I have my special guest, Shawn. Shawn, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Shawn Kreloff:

Sure. Thanks, Tom. I am the founder and CEO of Bioenergy Devco, an anaerobic digestion company based in the United States, but with worldwide reach.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And tell us a little bit about Bioenergy Devco, Shawn. What is it? What do you guys do?

Shawn Kreloff:

So we are in the anaerobic digestion business, which essentially is a way to naturally recycle organic waste. We're primarily focused on food waste. But what anaerobic digestion is really is essentially it's a cow's stomach on a very large scale. So the same process that goes on, natural microbial process that goes on inside a cow's stomach is what we've actually created. And it's a living ecosystem that munches away on organic material and makes it into fertilizer and, and, and biogas. It's the best way we have naturally, I think, to recycle this type of organic material.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and What was the genesis for the founding of the company? I mean, what made you wake up one morning and decide, I think I'll make it.

Shawn Kreloff:

So a long time ago, yeah, I worked this technology comes out of Europe. Okay. So specifically Germany. I was working in Germany, actually in the nineties, believe it or not. And I drove by every day, these two tanks with bubble roofs on the top, and I just was really curious at what I was looking at, because I'd never seen anything like that before. So I pulled over, and I happened upon two German guys who spoke English, which was very helpful, because my German was not so good. And they gave me a tour of this plant. It was at a dairy dairy farm and they were taking the dairy manure and making it into energy, specifically running generators on it, making several megawatts of energy. And I thought this was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. And I was like, why don't we do this in the United States? Why are we just throwing stuff away? Why don't we recycle this? It's it's great for the environment, but it also is a good business. So, it really became a passion project, really, at one time. So. I finally got around to, you know, getting to the point where I was going to, we found a good place to build a plant we thought in the United States and pulled all the pieces together. So here we are, one of the largest companies in the world now that build and build and operate aerobic digesters.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And walk me through the process a bit. I mean, you said it's food waste. Is that primarily what you're using. Is that entirely what you're using? Are you using a mix of other things as well? And where, you know, where do you get it and what happens to it?

Shawn Kreloff:

So we can use any type of organic material and historically, just, you know, we've built over 250 plants over the course of 25 years, we operate 140 plants and we've kind of seen it all when it comes to organic material, you know, we've used it all, but specifically here in the United States we have a very big problem with food waste, you know, we throw away a hundred there's a hundred million tons of food waste in the United States and about about 53 million tons of that is discarded unsustainably thrown away in landfills or incinerators And I think you know, Tom the biggest methane generator. One of the biggest methane generators we have on the planet is decaying organic material, right? That's left, you know, to decay in places where you can't sequester or capture the methane. So that is really what we're focused on. We're really focused on that food waste, in particular in the United States because it is a massive problem.

Tom Raftery:

And where do you source it? Do you go around to the skips at the back to restaurants or, you know, you've, you've obviously industrialized that somehow. And it's not as it's not like that. So how do you do it?

Shawn Kreloff:

Well, it's interesting question because there's many ways this can happen. Unfortunately, Americans are not quite so good as Europeans and separating their garbage yet into, you know, Paper, plastic, glass, and organics. So, that said, there are certain areas where we look at what we call post consumer organic material, which is basically the stuff that people throw out in their houses. But there's also pre consumer material, as we call it, which is, which is basically what goes on in food processors and food distributors. Big companies that are making, you know, food and food like material. Who throw away a massive amount of that, okay? And that is the low hanging fruit, I guess, pun intended, okay, for this business. All right?

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And you said that you're operating 140 plants and you've built 250, roughly, plants. So... I'm guessing it's a mix of you have been commissioned by some folks to build plants for them and at the same time, those 140 you built for yourself. So is the business model is a mix of both, right?

Shawn Kreloff:

Well, now it is. Historically, we were building plants for other people and operating them under a maintenance contract. But we decided around five years ago that building, owning and operating is also a great business model, and that's really what we're focused on in the United States. But we we do the same now in Italy. You know, the business was founded actually in northern Italy, one that we, you know, ended up acquiring became part of the big company. And and that business. Historically was what we call an EPC contractor engineering procurement construction company. Building plants for other people and operating them, but you know, we also have our own intellectual property. We have 18 patents that we've actually developed over the course of 25 years to actually make the process more efficient and and easier to maintain.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, so you get this food waste from food manufacturers or possibly municipalities or wherever you put it into a digester, it autodigests, creates this methane. And what else?

Shawn Kreloff:

So, first of all, the biological process is quite complicated. It's, you know, we, it is a, an ecosystem. It's four separate, believe it or not sets of microbes where the, where the waste material of one set of microbes becomes the food for the next until you get to the last process and the last process makes acetic acid basically, which is vinegar, like the same, same basic thing as vinegar into biogas biogas is around 60% methane and around 35% carbon dioxide. So. We can take, we take that biogas and do two things with it. We clean it up, is what we call it. So we make it almost into pure methane, which is the same as natural gas. This whole process happens within 30 days, by the way. The material comes in as raw, organic waste and leaves, leaves our plant as either biogas or what we call fertilizer or a soil amendment product, really. So those are the two products really. You also have water. Okay, there's a lot of water in organic material and that water we actually clean up and in arid environments, we can reuse that water for not only drinking water, but also for irrigation water. But also we have this, like you said, it's called, we call it digestate, which is essentially a compost like material that comes out of the plant that we can use. And put right into the soil. And the last piece is, like I said, this biogas, which we clean up and make it into natural gas and put it right back into the grid. So we're literally putting the gas right back into the grid. And then we also have the CO2 part, which we can separate, clean up, and that can be used as a product too. We can make food grade, what we call food grade carbon dioxide, right, as part of this. So, . The great benefit to this is we're keeping the methane out of the atmosphere. We're keeping the carbon dioxide from the same process outta the atmosphere. We're returning nutrients, you know, to the soil because we're, instead of throwing this away in a landfill or an incinerator, it's being put back on farms and, and places to grow things. And last but not least, we're recycling this water too associated with what we do and repurposing it. So, like I said, for me, Kind of environmentalist at heart. This was a great solution for this. And that's why I really fell in love with the business and the technology.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. I think in 130 something episodes of the podcast, this is the first time I've heard someone use the expression food grade CO2. So, I'm curious, being, being Irish I'm therefore a, obviously a beer drinker, so is that where food grade CO2 goes into? Is it into the production of the likes of beer or is it into something completely different? Mostly soft drinks.

Shawn Kreloff:

Beer makes its own CO2 as part of its fermentation process. There is no fermentation process in soda. Not that I know of. So we have to actually put the CO2 in it. So that's kind of one example of food grade CO2 usage.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And of course plants require CO2 to grow. So is there an opportunity to pipe the CO2 into the likes of greenhouses or something and then, you know, have a whole circular thing going on where you're, you're making food and then taking the waste from that food and using it, you know, to feed your digesters again?

Shawn Kreloff:

Absolutely. Tom, that's, you know, you really hit on something 'cause. We can, we can do that. So you can take the CO2, put it back into a greenhouse. We don't do that actually here, but I think we do it in a couple situations in Europe. And then we could take the liquid material. It's almost like, and, and it could stay a liquid actually, that has a lot of nutrients in it. And that could be used to grow plants inside the furrow, inside the greenhouse too. But you're absolutely right, Tom, that's being done. Or, you know, it's being done exactly how you kind of laid it out. So, yes, a big circular kind of economy here.

Tom Raftery:

Nice, nice, nice. And you, you're primarily in the U. S., is it, you said?

Shawn Kreloff:

So, Historically, the business has been based in Italy and in France. So we have the largest market share in Italy for building digesters and in France actually too. But we, we came over to the United States as part of this whole idea, like I said, I had of, of making sure this technology is available here in the United States. And we started doing that around 20, 2017, 2016. And so we've been working, we have our first fully operational plant here in the United States now built in the Baltimore, Washington, D. C. area. But we have another 40 plants under development, believe it or not, with 18 of them in pretty late stage. You know, so the good news is a lot of the hard work that we've done in helping to educate people about the solution is coming really to fruition. And now there's tax benefits in the United States now, too, for building this, and we're now working with several municipalities, as you kind of pointed out, Tom, redirecting waste material, organic waste, away from landfills and into digesters, so, it's really kind of catching on here.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, and obviously, if you're producing methane, that could also be used as an energy source for your own plants. I mean, you could burn it, produce electricity, produce heat capture the CO2 potentially from that, and again, feed greenhouses, or, you know, again, are those kind of things being done as well?

Shawn Kreloff:

So yeah, at our plant in Maryland, and more than a few other plants in Europe, we have our own CHPs, which are Combined Heat and Power Units. So... Our tanks need to be heated because just like the microbes, just like a cow's stomach, like it warm, okay, they're a lot more efficient when it's warm. So we're trying to recreate that environment. So we use the waste heat, you know, from the, from the generator to heat the tanks. But we also make our own electricity from our gas too. And yes, exactly like you pointed out, we can do that. But there's also a lot of other things you can do with methane. You may have heard, you know, when after the Russia invaded Ukraine, the price of fertilizer went up a lot, and that's mostly because Russia was a very big producer of chemical fertilizer like ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate. Now, interestingly enough, methane, they were making most of that from natural gas. Right. So you can take steam. Natural gas and separate it and into ammonium. Okay. And ammonium is the, is the fertilizer associated obviously with ammonium sulfate. The nitrogen based fertilizer is really what it is. Okay. Ammonium is a nitrogen based fertilizer. It's NH3. Okay. And so we can make fertilizer with, with methane. That's one option, but we can also make hydrogen. Okay. From from methane. In fact, most of the hydrogen we use today in the world is made from upgraded natural gas. So we can make green hydrogen because we are using renewable or recycled natural gas. So if you mix that with steam, you're making, you can make hydrogen also. So, it's a great, you know, methane has a bad, I was always, as I say, from a chemical or a chemistry perspective. It's got a bad name, methane, but there's, it's a very malleable molecule. There's lots of things you can do with it, which are good if you just kind of, you know, know what to do. So, that's, that's really what our focus is, is making this, you know, into fertilizer, hydrogen, but we're also making it into natural gas. It's the first step.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Okay. I mean, I can see lots of... Localized use cases for this. So, for example, farmers would have a lot of waste material, particularly if they're growing crops. If it was something like corn, there's a huge amount of waste comes off when you take the cobs of corn, there's a lot of plant material left, which could be utilized for something like this. Dairy farms or beef farms either, they produce an awful lot of waste that could be captured, captured the slurry, turn that in as well. So I could imagine farms using mini versions of what you're doing, for example, to help power themselves and help produce their own fertilizer. Similarly, I can imagine yeah, the likes of breweries. I mean, they buy in lots of barley, use it, mash it, and then at the end they have lots of cakes of barley or distilleries with whiskey as well. Same kind of thing. I imagine, again, they could be doing something like that. Is that a market you're looking to address as well, or are you going for the larger scale digesters?

Shawn Kreloff:

So this whole technology started off on farms. That's really how it got started. Farmers kind of looking to repurpose their waste. So that's been the traditional way of anaerobic digestion, you know, the usage of it. And it's very popular In Europe. We do, we do a lot of business with farming cooperatives, you know, for example, where we're taking several farmers waste. You know, and making it into both energy to run their machines and, you know, make electricity for what they're doing, but also into fertilizer, you know, for them to kind of re spread over the crop. So, there are economies of scale in this business, Tom. So, the kind of bigger you build the plant up to a certain point This, the more, economically viable it is as a solution. So that's why we kind of like to work with either very large farms or farming cooperatives, but exactly to your point. But then there's the, the distilleries, the breweries, the the other food processors too, which have, you know, a very large amount of material that generally is not being repurposed because they don't have a farm, you know, spread this on generally nearby. But we are kind of acting as the recycling engine, it's called, you know, for food processors and distributors.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And why has this taken so long to get to where it is? And if I'm, if I'm asking that, it's that anaerobic digestion, the, the, the process of it has been developed over millions of years in animals and has been known about for hundreds of years by science. It isn't anything particularly new. So why hasn't this been developed further than it has to date?

Shawn Kreloff:

Well, it's a great question. And I asked the same question myself when I first, you know, saw these plants over in Germany. And I can only say, I could probably answer the question two ways. One is, traditionally this was manure based. Farmers were using manure to digest, which is relatively easy to do, because the microbes you need are actually in the manure. Think about it. When we start commissioning a food waste plant, we use cow manure to commission the plant, because those are the microbes that we need. Now, the big difference is, from an operational perspective, if the microbes are in the manure, you really don't have to take care of them because you're replacing them. But if you do food waste, you're not replacing them. You have to take care of the microbes. So it becomes a very complicated biological process. So just like you can get an upset stomach if you eat the wrong food, the same thing can happen to our digester on a very large scale. And, you know, and basically you get an upset stomach because the microbes are being, are being killed off the acid in your system is killing off the microbes. And if that happens to us you know, we basically have a whole plant that's down. So good news is that has rarely ever happened to us because our operations, our biologists are excellent. We have a full scale laboratory, just focused on making sure our plants are happily digesting, all right, and our microbes are happy. Because the way I look at it, Tom, is we, we are really microbe farmers. That's really what we are. And the farmers, I mean, the microbes are doing all the heavy lifting. We're just, we have to take care of them, just like a farmer does. So, but there's trillions of, of these microbes inside one of our tanks. Our tanks can be quite large. Two million gallons, for example, are the ones we have in Maryland, you know, each. So, they're quite large. But that said getting back to your other question is why has it taken so long? One, again, one is because the biological and sophistication required to manage a food waste digester and moving away from manure has been complicated. And the second reason, I'll point to the United States. It's because United States thought for a long time. We have all this land. We don't have so many people. We can just you know Spread our food waste where we want to we can burn what we want to and we can landfill we went to because we had plenty of room. That's not the case any more. So, I Think people have woken up over here and especially around the whole climate change, issue in particular, the methane emissions, and all of that kind of together has brought now finally anaerobic digestion I'll call it to the United States, where it's become food waste in particular digestion, where it's now become a viable solution.

Tom Raftery:

And how big can you scale it?

Shawn Kreloff:

It can, you know, it's basically around tank size, you know, there's but we have plants out there. I mean, our plant in Maryland is doing 115, 000 tons a year of organic material. That's almost 300 tons a day. And that's one module of our plant. So we have plants in design, which are two and three times the size of that, you know, in certain, in certain markets. So. Quite large, but the good news is it really don't take up a lot of room. Like a landfill can take hundreds of acres, obviously, to build. An incinerator can take, you know, 50, 30, 40, 50 acres to build. Done, you know, done, done on a large scale. But our plant in Maryland is only on six acres. Okay, so what's good about that is we can put our plants very close to the source of the organic material. Which has other benefits, you know, keeping transportation costs and pollution down, you know, because normally this material would have to be trucked to a landfill incinerator, which is usually 30, 40, 50, even more miles away. But we're, some of our customers are literally next door to our plant. So, we help in that way. There's also other benefits. We can keep the fracking down. You know, fracking is not really good for the environment. I think we all know that. But we could replace studies have been done up to 20% of the natural gas that we use in this country using anaerobic digestion, which is a big number. So. There's other, other ancillary benefits I recall associated with this technology too, besides the three obvious ones I talked about, air, water, and soil.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And what are the challenges to rolling out some of these digesters? Do they, do they require a particular geography? Do they require particular environmental impact assessments to be passed? If I was living next to one, would I be getting nasty smells? You know, all these kind of things. What, what, what kind of challenges are there for you?

Shawn Kreloff:

So location is important. You know, we need to be near the source of the material, but also we need to be, usually we're, we're in an area where it's industrially zoned. So the zoning is kind of important to where we are. But it's interesting in, in, in Europe, we have some plants that are doing district heating. You know, I think, you know, that is where the whole town is being heated and where the anaerobic digester is actually the source of the energy in the town and that our digesters are right in the middle of town and managed properly, these plants, you know, give off very little odor, if any. So, like our plant in Maryland has negative air pressure associated with it. So, even when you open the door to the tipping floor, all the air stays inside the building. So we have all these ways of kind of dealing with it, but what's really great about it is the, the waste material sits on the floor for only a few minutes before it's put into feed hoppers, ground up and then put into the tanks. So you don't have this rotting material like lying around, you know, it goes right from the truck into the feeders. And we also use waste fats, oils, and greases, like you were pointing out. From restaurant grease traps, where trucks come in as tankers, and then it gets pumped from tank to tank, from a tanker truck into our tank, and obviously, no, no odor associated with that. So, you know, just the process itself keeps odors down, but we, we go, we take an extra step to make sure we're good neighbors.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Okay. And you've received some recognition as well, haven't you? In the form of awards and things like that. Do you want to talk about those?

Shawn Kreloff:

Yeah, so we were awarded gosh, the name escapes me, unfortunately. I should know it. But the Climate, Climate, which group? Leadership Awards. Thank you. Climate Leadership. I should have known that. Climate Leadership Awards. We wanted yeah, we won. We were a winner as part of our partnership that we have with Exelon, who's the power company, who were actually putting the gas into their grid. So, yes, that was quite a big award. And my apologies to the Climate Leadership people. But it was really it really, it was a great recognition. We appreciate that.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And where to next for you guys? I mean, what are your five and 10 year plans?

Shawn Kreloff:

Well, it's to keep building plants, Tom, really, as many as we can and as fast as we can, because every plant we build really kind of can really help the world and help our community, the community that's in. We have several communities in the United States that are in valleys where there's a river running through it. And there are a lot of, there's a lot of agriculture and food processing in it. And we have people who say, you know, when I was young, I used to be able to swim in the river and now I can't swim in the river because all these food processors are putting their raw material, spreading it on farmer's land. And as soon as it rains, it ends up in the watershed. We can take all that material, recycle it, reprocess it. And you know, so every plant we build can help a community, can help a country, can help really the planet. So our goal is to build them as fast as we can. And the good news is there's a lot of material out there that needs to be recycled Tom, a lot of organic material.

Tom Raftery:

Cool, cool. Shawn, we're coming towards the end of the podcast now. Is there any question that I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about?

Shawn Kreloff:

No, just, I think the environmental benefits especially around capturing methane and capturing CO2. Now, there's simultaneous air quality benefits by keeping those greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. There's water quality benefits, not only by recycling water, but what I just said before, a lot of this material, especially in the United States, is land applied, raw, and as soon as it rains, it ends up in the watershed. So we have water quality benefits by being able to recycle that versus land applied. And then making nutrients, returning nutrients to the soil, enabling sustainable farming. We use way too much chemical fertilizer in this country and around the world. And the same thing happens with chemical fertilizer. When there's too many nutrients in the soil and it rains, you end up with excess nutrients in the watershed, which cause oxygen deprivation and water quality problems. So we can help kind of defer or mitigate excess use of organic fertilizer on top of it and return nutrients to the soil. Instead of mining, think about all the mining that's done for phosphorus and things like that. So a lot of these ancillary benefits of what we do, it's really a good story. And again, the reason I fell in love with the technology and I'm, I'm I really love what I do. And I'm excited to help make this technology pervasive really here in the United States, and around the world.

Tom Raftery:

Cool, cool. Shawn, that's been great. If people would like to know more about yourself or any of the topics we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?

Shawn Kreloff:

Well, you can go to the company, which is bioenergydevco. com or my LinkedIn under my name, Shawn Kreyloff. I think I'm the only Shawn Kreyloff actually in the world. Okay. So it'll be easy to find. Okay. How's that? All right.

Tom Raftery:

Perfect. Perfect. I'll put links in the show notes anyway, Shawn, just to be sure. Great. Shawn, that's been fantastic. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.

Shawn Kreloff:

Thanks for having me, Tom. I really enjoyed the podcast, so thanks again.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to Tom raftery@outlook.com. Or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please, don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks, catch you all next time.

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