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John Edel

– Founder and owner of The Plant (Bubbly Dynamics LLC)

AKA. The Algae Visionary

“Transforming an urban anaerobic digester” - Innovations in algal based urban food waste processing.

Inefficiencies in the food chain in industrialized countries result in up to 50% of all production going to waste, further impacting the environment and worsening climate change. While there have been substantial advances in anaerobic digester technologies to convert consumer, industrial, and agricultural food waste and biomass into energy and other products, considerable challenges remain, especially in urban areas, in terms of economic viability and fully utilizing the digestate and carbon dioxide generated by these processes. We present an innovative model, currently being upscaled at The Plant, a food business incubator in Chicago, whereby algae are the key to transforming an urban anaerobic digester into a sustainable source of economic, social, and environmental value. When fully operational, biomass (food waste from the Chicago metropolitan area, spent brewers grain from the onsite brewery and other organic material) will pass through a 32 ton-per-day capacity plug-flow anaerobic digester, and the digestate will be remediated using extremophile algae. Thereafter, the remediated digestate will be used to grow Spirulina and Chlorella in tubular photobioreactors. Extraction, purification and drying of algal extracts will be undertaken using energy from the digester. These extracts will be used as natural colorants, food ingredients, biostimulants for urban agriculture, and media for cellular agriculture, thereby ‘closing the loop’ through the creation of consumable food products. This model has been emulated and tested in a large-scale indoor pilot unit at The Plant. Algae offer a promising avenue to bring true economic sustainability to digester-based management of urban food waste.

John Edel is a pioneering thinker and innovator in the urban food circular economy and adaptive industrial reuse. As an eco-and social entrepreneur, he envisioned, built and currently operates the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center (a green-business incubator) and The Plant (a previously abandoned pork packing factory that is now home to vertical farms, a brewery and food businesses) in Chicago’s historic stockyards. Bubbly Dynamics and Back of the Yards Algae Sciences are working together to build the world’s first circular economy-based platform for sustainable plant-based proteins and cellular agriculture.