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Ring Bros. Marketplace will be testing a new bioenergy technology in its South Dennis, Mass. location that will not only save money by turning organic waste into energy, but might also drive revenue through the sale of surplus power to neighboring businesses, and of nutrient-rich compost to local farmers.
The community-based single-store independent last month received a $195,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's Renewable Energy Trust, a group that pioneers and promotes clean energy technology, to install a system that uses anaerobic digestive technology to break down organic waste. The process renders methane gas as a byproduct that will power a turbine that generates electricity.
"This will enable us to eliminate our energy costs," says Patrick Ring, grocery manager and son of co-owner Ed Ring. "Also, we expect to generate enough surplus energy to sell to the other businesses that share the shopping plaza with us."
The experimental unit was developed by Wellesley, Mass.-based Feed Resource Recovery, which specializes in technology to recycle organic waste. Shane Eten, who founded Feed Resource Recovery, is a longtime friend of Patrick Ring's. Once Eten developed the technology, he saw the supermarket as an ideal place to test it.
"He thought our place was perfect because of the volume of fresh foods we have," says Patrick Ring.
The unit, which will be installed next spring, handles the entire recycling process in the store. Organic waste is deposited in the unit, and the anaerobic digestive technology is added, which breaks down the waste and releases methane gas, which is then used to power a turbine that generates electricity. The resulting byproduct will be ready to be sold to organic farmers as fertilizer.
The process that will be used by Ring Bros. takes typical grocery organic waste-recycling efforts a major step further. Supermarkets running organic waste-recycling programs usually collect the matter in a compactor, and then pay to have it trucked off the site to another recycling facility. But with Ring Bros.' new program, "it doesn't have to be trucked off-site," says Patrick Ring. "It all happens in the store, so there's less total fuel consumed in the process."
The retailer will still have to use traditional means to get rid of about 35 percent to 40 percent of its waste, but employing the new system should save the grocer a large chunk of the $25,000 to $30,000 per year it spends on waste management.
Ring Bros. is no stranger to green equipment. Two years ago the retailer invested in a cooling system for its beverage case that taps into the cold air outside -- something South Dennis often experiences -- to maintain the temperature inside the cooler.
The system, CoolTrol, was developed by Canton, Mass.-based National Resource Management to optimize the energy used in walk-in coolers and freezers so that the fans and compressors run less often, thus consuming less energy. In addition to regulating fan and compressor usage based on cooler traffic, the system also harnesses outside air during cool months to keep temperatures low -- in the same way consumers often store an ice cream cake on an outside porch during the winter to let nature's freezer prevent it from melting.
"The technology is used year-round, though it saves the most energy during the colder months," says Ring Bros. general manager Don Fallon. "It's already saved us thousands of dollars since we installed it, as well as reduced the amount of energy used to keep beverages cold."
While both of these systems will save Ring Bros. a ton of green in the coming years, the bioenergy system may actually become a profit center for the retailer. Ring Bros. will sell any excess energy the unit generates to the other businesses that operate in the store's shopping plaza; these include a Dunkin' Donuts, Curves, a barber shop, a travel agency, and an insurance agency. The only challenge for Ring Bros. might be to figure out which product category to place retail electricity under.