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Trash Power: Cabot and Casella Wed Alternative Energy and Waste

by Carla Occaso
Every little bit helps when it comes to reducing energy use, or so it seems if you look at the pioneering efforts of two Vermont companies.
“In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t move the dial hugely, but it is one element,” said Jed Davis, sustainability director for Cabot Creamery, of the company’s solar-powered trash compactor. Davis spoke of implementing green energy to power the compactor as an experiment between two companies that have an ongoing partnership in sustainability technology. The two companies are Cabot and Rutland-based Casella Resource Solutions.
Exhibiting a sense of whimsy, Casella decorated the unit with what Davis called a “Holstein-colored” covering, referring to the big black-and-white bovines common to Vermont pastures. This is almost an inside joke because the unit is not visible to anyone except when it is transported by truck on Route 2 to Montpelier, Davis said. The unit was a prototype for Casella, who got it up and running in 2012—and two years of operation have proven the unit’s energy conservation.
The two companies are also working on ways to convert waste material to methane gas power. They have been developing a test site at a farm in Massachusetts where cow manure and whey buttermilk are converted into electricity. The whey buttermilk would otherwise go into the waste stream, rather than becoming power, as it does when it is put in an anaerobic digester with cow manure. This pilot project creates more electricity than when manure is used alone. It’s a great example, Davis said, of a technology that takes what would otherwise be waste and “repurposes it into electricity.” The test site generates enough energy to power the farm, with enough left over to help power Cabot’s creamery in West Springfield, MA. Given Vermont’s extensive dairy industry, the nascent technology shows plenty of potential for application in Cabot’s home state too.