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Operation: Gills Onions, LLC
Location: Oxnard, CA
Type of Operation: Onion processing
Size of Operation: 80 million pounds
Years in Business: 28
The world’s largest onion processing plant, Gills Onions not only processes 80 million pounds of onions a year, it also runs a groundbreaking waste-to-energy system that generates enough power to supply 100 percent of the base load electricity consumed by the plant each year.
Launched in 2009, the Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS) converts onion waste – up to 300,000 pounds every day – into ultra-clean energy that powers the Gills Onions plant. The AERS works by extracting the juice from onion peels and exposing it in tanks to specialized bacteria. The bacteria break down the juice, releasing methane gas that in turn powers two 300-kilowatt fuel cells. The first-of-its-kind system has eliminated an estimated $700,000 of energy costs annually.
The benefits don’t stop there, though. The onion pulp left after the juice is extracted is turned into high-energy-value cattle feed that is sold to local ranchers, creating a new revenue stream. Moreover, the company saves $400,000 a year that it used to spend disposing of the waste, and in the process has eliminated the greenhouse gas emissions that these disposal trucks released – an estimated CO2e (equivalent) emissions reduction of 14,500 metric tons each year.
The $10.8 million dollar project, funded by Farm Credit West and CoBank, is so innovative that it won the 2010 Grand Conceptor Award from American Council of Engineering Companies, beating out 163 other entries including the new Dallas Cowboys football stadium.