Montana State researchers explore how food waste can save farmers money, cut emissions

ISABEL HICKS Bozeman Daily Chronicle

BOZEMAN — Research at Montana State University is exploring how farmers and gardeners could save money and build soil health with a burgeoning technology that can turn food waste into organic fertilizer and fuel.

Anaerobic digestion is a process where microorganisms break down organic materials, like food scraps and manure, without oxygen. It involves putting the organic material in a prepared, airtight container with water where, over four to six weeks, bacteria transform the scraps into a nutrient-rich fertilizer and biogas that can be captured and used for energy production.

Although similar to compositing, anaerobic digestion generates two byproducts — fertilizer and biogas — whereas composting just produces fertilizer. Composting also requires more space and maintenance, and isn’t as efficient for processing nutrient-dense feedstock like food scraps.

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Roland Ebel, an assistant research professor in the Department of Health and Human Development who’s leading the project, said the technology mirrors what cow stomachs do naturally — digesting food into manure with methane as a byproduct.

Ebel first saw anaerobic digesters being used by subsistence farmers in Mexico. They were easy to operate, cost-efficient, and helped

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