By Scott Christie
Gills Onions, Oxnard, Calif., has been a leader in sustainability in the produce industry, and the company's efforts have garnered national attention. And Gills Onions is documenting what it does and working with outside groups to track the data - for use internally to continue to improve and externally to help shape sustainability metrics.
The company's biggest investment so far into sustainable energy was the construction an advanced energy recovery system that uses solid waste from the plant to energy. The waste - up to 300,000 pounds a day - is turned into a liquid and goes into an anaerobic digester, which then converts it to methane. The clean burnings gas can then be used to power the 600 kilowatt fuel cells. That system came online last year, but construction took almost three years and the process from idea to implementaion took about a decade.
The advanced recovery system covers between 30 percent and 40 percent of the Gills Onions' plant power needs, and saves the company about $700,000 in electricity costs a year (as well as reducting greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30,0000 tons a year). The initial cost was high, but state and federal incentives covered about one third of the $9.5M investment.