Ag Gains as Company Transforms 2 Million Tons of Organic Waste to 29 Million Bags of Soil
March 4, 2013 | Melonie Magruder
Harvest Power is about dirt. It’s also about soil regeneration and managing the modern day intersection of waste, agriculture and energy, so that ongoing human consumption can be used as the engine to drive ongoing renewable energy.
In three and a half years, CEO Paul Sellew has created a company that diverts more than two million tons of organic waste material from landfills and turns it into some 29 million bags of soil, mulch and fertilizer products while producing 65,000 megawatt hours of heat and power-generating energy to run its facilities.
Harvest Power operates in 30 sites across the U.S. and Canada, using strategic partnerships with municipalities, haulers and state-of-the-art anaerobic digesters to create high value compost that is in turn used to create more high nutrition food that can be later be recycled into the system starting the whole process over again.
“It’s a neat business model,” company director of Communications Meredith Sorensen. “We get paid at the front end to take in green waste; we get paid for the electricity we produce that feeds into the grid and we get paid for the end product. In the end, profitability is sustainability.”
CEO Sellew said he has been involved in composting for some 30 years. He founded Earthgro, Inc back in 1982, which grew to be the second largest producer of compost-based lawn and garden products in North America. (He also founded Allgro, Inc, a compost marketing firm, International Process Systems, Inc, a composting technology provider, and Environmental Credit Corp, a carbon credit creation and trading firm… basically covering the entire composting life cycle).
“Our view is that if you have all this organic waste generated by society that can be converted into energy and products, you’ve got a profitable business,” Sellew said. “And it helps the planet.”
With endless supplies of green waste and endless demand for soil-regenerating compost products, Sellew only sees continued expansion in the years ahead. Harvest currently maintains three anaerobic digesting facilities (in British Columbia, Ontario and Florida) that create energy and composting materials.
“It’s not new technology,” Sorensen said. “Basically, you add organic materials to an anaerobic environment that starts bacteria growing. It’s like we have microscopic cows that create tons of biogas (primarily methane) that we capture for energy use.”
There’s a lot of diversity in waste. Harvest manufactures a wide range of compost and mulching products under brand names Garden Pro and Nature’s Pride (Harvest took over a 45-year-old, established company, Coastal Supply Company for these operations). Their retail customers include Home Depot, Loews and Walmart.
Harvest Power acquired a British Columbia-based company called Fraser Richmond Soil & Fibre to process municipal food scraps and yard waste in the first commercial scale, high solid anaerobic digesters in Canada. Beyond high value compost, the processing plant generates tons of biogas that is captured and can then be either compressed into vehicle fuel or power the electrical needs of the plant.
Harvest also operates a recycler of construction, demolition and renovation materials to create mulch and woodscape products near Vancouver – keeping more tonnage of waste from the landfills.
Harvest’s Energy Garden in London, Ontario aims to recycle local green waste and produce renewable energy for the city of London, while supporting local organic food industries.
And Harvest’s Reliable Wood Products and Nature’s Choice Corporation, at their East Coast facility, serves as the state’s leading provider of bulk landscape products and organic green waste recycling services.
“Basically, we turn a bunch of challenges local governments face with waste disposal and greenhouse gas emissions into clean energy and less landfill,” Sorensen said. “It benefits local businesses like landscapers, gardeners and farmers. People are becoming more aware of food security and the importance of soil regeneration. We’re just trying to be the thought leaders in this industry.”
Harvest’s comprehensive solutions to waste management have quickly earned them a raft of awards: the Environmental Business Journal 2012 Business Achievement Award; the New England Clean Energy Council’s Breakout Company of the Year, Global Cleantech Group’s 2011 Top 100, and AlwaysOn’s GoingGreen Top 50 Private greentech companies of 2010.
Sellew’s says that his team of 500 employees is only looking to create more of the same.
“We did over a $100 million in business last year,” Sellew said. “There’s millions of tons of organic waste out there ready to compost.”