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Seab Energy has shrunk traditionally massive anaerobic digesters down into a portable, scalable system that allows businesses to generate electricity from their waste.

UK Startup Seab Energy has developed a modular digester that convert organic materials -- like the 7.2 million tons of food and drink that's thrown out every year in Britain alone -- into heat and power.

The company has started to sell its system to businesses and institutions, such as fruit packers and the hospitality and agriculture industries, that have a continuous waste stream, reported Forbes contributor Michael Kanellos, who met up with the UK company at the Cleantech Forum this week in San Francisco.

Turning trash into electricity is an emerging industry that has produced startups like Seab Energy, Enerkem and Terrabon. Industry giants like Waste Management and oil refiner Valero also have pursued the idea, often investing in or partnering with companies that have developed technology to turn waste into electricity, gas or other usable products like plastic. Waste Management has been particularly aggressive in its bid to save space in local landfills by turning the garbage it collects into something more useful, like energy. The company has built up recycling, waste-to-energy and landfill gas-to-energy segments of its business for decades.

Seab Energy isn't trying to tackle the landfill arena directly. Instead, it's going right to the medium-sized businesses that consistently produce waste. And the feedstock -- aka garbage -- is abundant. As Kanellos noted today, the United States generates nearly 250 million tons of municipal solid waste a year, the majority of which ends up in a landfill.

About Seab Energy's digester

The relatively small size and portability of the systems is what makes Seab's creation stand apart from other anaerobic digesters. The company has developed two digesters, the Muckbuster and the MB400, to accommodate both large and smaller waste streams. The systems, which fit into a 40-foot shipping container, are designed for smaller waste producers who typically generate between 200 and 1,000 tons of waste per year.

The Muckbuster is designed to process animal manure, organic or septic waste, making it suitable for equestrian centers and for agribusinesses. The system converts what used to be waste into biogas, which can be used to heat water or generate electricity. It also provides a source of organic fertilizer that can be sprayed or ground injected. The dry mulch can be re-used as animal bedding.

Seab Energy estimates the payback time for companies that buy a system ranges between two and six years, when using grants and incentives available in the UK, United States and France. About one cubic meter of waste creates one household unit of electricity.

[Via: Forbes]

Photo: Flickr user r1.c3d, CC 2.0; Seab Energy

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure