This french-fry plant is fuelled by potato scraps

Ahead of its time. Even though the biogas plant at Cavendish Farms on P.E.I. was built almost ten years ago, it's led to the biggest carbon footprint reduction in the province's history.

Cavendish Farms says switching to biogas has allowed it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent

Before the biogas plant opened, potato waste was trucked offsite to feed animals. Today, most of the waste is converted into gas to help run the processing plant. (Pat Martel/CBC)

What goes around comes around at Cavendish Farms in New Annan, P.E.I. — potato scraps from the french-fry plant are used at the nearby biogas facility to fuel the fry factory they came from.

According to the company, generating biogas allowed it to reduce its dependency on fuel oil by 30 per cent, reducing greenhouse gases by about 35,000 tonnes — the equivalent of taking 7,300 cars off the road for one year.

Bacteria in the digesters break down carbon in the potato waste. One of the byproducts is biogas which fuels the boilers in the company's nearby french-fry processing facility. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"We were burning about 10 million litres per year of Bunker C fuel oil," said Darren Cash, manager of safety and environmental operations.

The company further reduced its oil consumption in 2012 in the fry plant by switching the remainder of its fuel oil to natural gas.

'It's still a showpiece plant,' says Darren Cash from Cavendish Farms. 'The construction of this plant would stand up, you'd do it almost the same way today.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

"We've actually been able to reduce our carbon footprint by 60 per cent," said Cash.

Fewer trucks on the road

Cash said using the waste to create biogas also means the company isn't trucking about a dozen loads of potato waste offsite every day — as it used to.

"So the peel, the raw material, the frozen product that's not fit to go into a bag would all have been trucked offsite to animal feed lots," he said.

The biogas plant at Cavendish Farms in New Annan, P.E.I. is so automated that only one person is needed to oversee operations in the control room. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Now, any leftover waste is turned into compost. It is still trucked offsite — sometimes to be used in the same potato fields it originally came from — but Cash said it's now only one truck a day and reducing mileage by 1,450 kilometres per day.

"It's a great story for a lot of reasons," Cash said. "Taking those trucks off the road makes a big impact and also burning a cleaner fuel lowers our carbon footprint on site."

About 12 trucks a day unload waste at the Cavendish Farms biogas facility. The mixture includes peels and unusable potatoes from the company's nearby french-fry plant. (Pat Martel/CBC)

'A showpiece plant'

The $25 million biogas facility has been in operation for almost 10 years, and Cash said its technology is still considered state of the art today.

After most of the waste is converted into gas, the remaining material — about a truckload a day — is turned into fertilizer. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"It's still a showpiece plant," he said. "The construction of this plant would stand up — you'd do it almost the same way today, almost ten years later."

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Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning where he was a writer-broadcaster and producer. He joined the web team recently to share his passion for great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He retired in Oct. 2019.