By Green Energy Times Staff
The Vermont Coffee Company (VCC), known for its organic coffee, has big news. All the energy it uses to roast its coffee now comes from renewable resources.
The move to renewable energy is no accident. Founder & CEO Paul Ralston has been working for years on ways to roast with renewable energy. He said, however, “The renewable energy piece has been a long frustrating road. Early on we tried a coffee roaster that burned wood, but it didn’t roast coffee very well.”
As of April 2018, both the electricity and thermal energy (gas) used to roast its coffee comes from methane. Even though it’s a powerful greenhouse gas, when recovered via anaerobic digestion (AD) methane can be converted into electricity or renewable natural gas.
There are many reasons to encourage the use of AD for energy generation. In Vermont there are more than a dozen digesters located on dairy farms generating electricity from biogas, along with other byproducts such as rich compost, fertilizer and animal bedding. AD also is an effective way to reduce the amount of agricultural pollutants, such as the phosphorus that contributes to Vermont’s water quality issues.
Sourcing renewable electricity was the easy part for VCC. Through the process of AD, cow manure is transformed into electricity which is then fed onto the power grid, just like other renewable resources such as wind, solar and hydro. Electricity produced this way is branded and sold by Green Mountain Power as “Cow Power” and is available to commercial and residential customers for a small premium.
For VCC’s thermal energy, methane is captured at a Quebec-based engineered landfill and converted into renewable natural gas. Ralston pointed to the advantages of this system, saying, “The landfill was designed to capture the methane that would normally off-gas into the environment. The biogas is scrubbed, cleaned and injected into the pipeline, and we take it out the other end, here in Middlebury.” Renewable biogas is available through Vermont Gas Systems’ Renewable Natural Gas program, and like Cow Power, participants pay a premium for it.
Ralston believes energy efficiency is really the first step towards using 100% renewables. In order to offset the premiums it pays for renewable energy, over the last several years VCC invested in new roasting technology that is much more energy efficiency. In fact, the new roasters use 70% less gas to roast a pound of coffee than the older equipment.
By combining renewable natural gas sourced from a landfill with farm-produced electricity, VCC can honestly claim to be selling coffee that is roasted with 100% renewable energy. According to its website, it is the first coffee company in the U.S. to be powered entirely by renewable biogas.