A Vanguard for growth: Vanguard Renewables focuses on organic waste recycling
Vanguard Renewables has placed itself at the forefront of the organics processing movement with the opening of an advanced depackaging facility in Massachusetts.
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Founded in 2014 by John Hanselman and Kevin Chase, Wellesley, Massachusetts-based Vanguard Renewables was created with the primary goal of transforming what was once considered waste into renewable energy to power homes, businesses and communities.
Working directly with food manufacturers and other organic waste producers from across the food and beverage spectrum, the renewable energy company’s projects have placed an emphasis on recycling organic waste that would have previously ended up in a landfill.
With seven operating facilities located across the Northeast, Vanguard Renewables collects inedible or unusable food waste, along with other organics, which are delivered to the company’s farm-powered anaerobic digestors. From there, the material is combined with farm manure in a sealed biodigester tank, where it is then converted into biogas.
“All of our projects are done through anaerobic digestion (AD),” says Hanselman, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “We take the organic matter, put it into these huge, million-gallon hot pots and cook that product for 30 days. While we do that, the naturally occurring microorganisms that are in the gut flora of the cow manure eat the food waste and emit methane.”
The resulting biogas is then cleaned to produce energy in the form of renewable natural gas for heating and cooling or compressed natural gas (CNG) for vehicles. It can also be converted into renewable electricity.
According to the company, the remaining liquid digestate creates a low-carbon fertilizer that supports regenerative agriculture practice and reduces farm dependence on chemical fertilizers.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Although Vanguard’s AD facilities have helped establish the company as a national leader in the development of organic waste-to-energy projects in the U.S., Hanselman says the company eventually identified a demand for more comprehensive recycling operations.
“When we started the company, we thought we just needed to run the anaerobic digesters on the farms. And then it turned out that we really needed to help perform all the logistics, as well as the hauling and dispatching of the food waste,” Hanselman says. “More and more of what we were hearing from customers was that they didn’t want to deal with separating the food waste and removing contaminants. They wanted [someone to provide] all of that.”
“[Our customers] wanted one vendor who would handle all the organic matter. … So, the ORF turned out to be a wonderful step in opening and broadening our appetite, and our ability to consume any organic waste regardless of what form it was delivered to us.” –John Hanselman, co-founder and CEO, Vanguard Renewables
Faced with growing pressure from food waste producers to offer a one-stop shop for organics processing, the company broadened its portfolio with the opening of an organics recycling facility (ORF) in December 2020. The advanced facility in Agawam, Massachusetts, is designed to depackage and process expired goods, off-spec batches or unsafe to eat food and beverage products.
“[Our customers] wanted one vendor who would handle all the organic matter, both to have them in compliance if they were in a state that had a landfill diversion ordinance or if they had a really strong mission statement and commitment to climate reduction and decarbonization,” Hanselman says. “So, the ORF turned out to be a wonderful step in opening and broadening our appetite, and our ability to consume any organic waste regardless of what form it was delivered to us.”
According to Ryan Harb, senior organics market manager for Vanguard, the new depackaging facility has solved a significant need within the industry.
“We opened up this depackaging facility because there’s a lot of food waste and beverage waste out there that is still in its packaging and can’t be sold to consumers. Because [this packaged food] can’t go to a digester or compost facility, it’s getting landfilled or incinerated. So, having this facility is that other option and really helps Vanguard be more vertically integrated,” he says.