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Getting gas from trash

A Boston-area entrepreneur imagines how to develop a business based on large-scale repurposing of organic waste.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

Shane Eten was once a manufacturing director at a high-end Linux server maker. Now he wants to be a garbage collector.

A graduate student at Babson College's School of Business, Eten has developed a business plan around large-scale composting of organic solid waste. His company, Feed Resource Recovery, is one of 10 to be chosen this year for MIT's Ignite Clean Energy competition for aspiring entrepreneurs.

The technology behind Feed Resource Recovery is anaerobic digestion, the breakdown of organic material by bacteria, creating methane in the process. , which treat the waste, are already in commercial use, including on farms where cow manure generates "biogas."

Eten envisions using the same equipment in urban settings: His plans call for collecting organic waste from supermarkets and processing it at a nearby site. The trash can be any compostable material, including food waste and paper products

"I have never really have been an environmentalist. I always just liked new technology," Eten said. "I see this as bringing new technology to market."

The by-products of a digester would be methane and two kinds of fertilizer--a liquid fertilizer and solid compost. Eten envisions selling each of the products wholesale.

Eten said he was inspired by William McDonough, a designer who co-authored a book called "Cradle to Cradle," which argues that a product lifecycle can be designed with little, or even beneficial, impact on the natural environment.

The Feed Resource Recovery is more feasible today than it would have been a few years ago because stores are more willing to separate their trash. The company is still looking for initial funding.

"The great part about this is that the market is so big because there is so much trash. And nobody knows where it goes," said Eten.


Correction: Due to an editing error, this article misstated the by-products of the composting process. The process will generate methane, as well as a liquid fertilizer and solid compost.