In developing NYUMicroAD, NYU aims to divert organic waste from landfills by turning table scraps into electricity and fertilizer with a high-impact, small footprint urban-scale bio-digester


In developing NYUMicroAD, NYU aims to divert organic waste from landfills by turning table scraps into electricity and fertilizer with a high-impact, small footprint urban-scale bio-digester

New York University, an institutional leader in sustainability in New York City, this month answered Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s “Energy to Lead Competition,” call for submissions. The $3 million clean energy competition challenged student-led coalitions from New York colleges and universities to design and develop innovative plans for campus and community clean energy projects.

NYU’s submission, a micro-scale anaerobic digester, dubbed “NYUMicroAD,” will capture and convert organic food waste generated primarily from the NYU dining halls into renewable electricity and biofertilizer.

The competition, part of the REV Campus Challenge announced by the Governor in October at NYU, three winners will each receive $1 million for assistance in implementing the best plans to advance clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) on campus and in local communities in NYS. The winners are scheduled to be announced late spring 2016.

“The NYUMicroAD project will divert NYU’s organic waste, currently transported off-site by diesel fueled truck at considerable financial and environmental costs, into readily available and renewable energy on site,” said project sponsor Beth Morningstar, NYU’s AVP for Strategic Initiatives and Sustainability. “To our knowledge, the NYUMicroAD system is the first of its kind here in the U.S.”

NYUMicroAD was designed to be constructed with existing and replicable technology which is locally available from business right here in NYS. The use of local vendors, technology specialists, skilled power maintenance, and engineering personnel, would create economic development if replicated, deployed, and maintained at other entities such as hospitals and business complexes in urban areas across NYS.

The renewable electricity generated by NYUMicroAD will be directed into the University’s existing microgrid system. The project also calls for a series of newly installed on-site electric vehicle (EV) charging stations which will provide energy for a newly purchased NYU EV fleet. In addition to the regular use of passenger vans by NYU’s Public Safety, Athletics and Facilities, a pickup truck EV would be used to collect and transport the organic waste to the digester system.

“A secondary byproduct of the NYUMicroAD process is a renewable, high-quality organic fertilizer,” said Dianne Anderson, director of NYU’s Office of Sustainability. “Following on-site digestion, the remaining liquids (digestate) and biosolids would be collected and utilized as nutrients for campus and community urban farms and landscaping.”

A key criterion of Cuomo’s Competition was to situate the overall project within the larger context of the community both inside the academic institution as well as to engage externally, in a positive and meaningful way, with the community at large to help mitigate the effects of GHG.

“The NYUMicroAD project aims also to educate the NYU community and the larger NYC public about the value of organic material which, through our current means of disposal, is essentially wasted,” said Anderson.  “The deployment of NYUMmicroAD technology will be a model example for how food waste in an urban environment can be utilized, with our outputs going to support clean EV transportation and urban agriculture.”

The project will educate people about the value of a vast energy rich resource (organic waste) which is currently discarded at significant cost. The hope is this technology will change the way New Yorkers look at and treat food waste.

About the NYU Office of Sustainability--NYU launched its sustainability efforts in 2006 with the creation of Sustainability Task Force formed by faculty, students, staff and administration to galvanize NYU community to plan and take action towards sustainability in the way we live, operate, educate and innovate. The Office of Sustainability implements infrastructure projects, communication and engagement campaigns, and innovative programs to empower, inspire and guide the NYU community to achieve our goals for sustainable practices and culture.

About the Energy to Lead Competition--The $3 million “Energy to Lead Competition,” administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is open to student-led coalitions from two- or four-year public or private colleges or universities. Applications are available on NYSERDA’s website here. Proposals were to be submitted by 5 p.m., April 4, 2016.

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