The Wasted Potential of Biomass

The Wasted Potential of Biomass


Team Information
MJC Biomass Project: Biofuels
Circular Economy

Modesto Junior College

Team Member #4 Organization (College, Work, etc.)

Modesto Junior College

Team Member #5 Organization (College, Work, etc.)

Modesto Junior College

About the Problem

About the Problem

One-Line Problem Summary

Biomass waste as a fuel lacks the necessary awareness and infrastructure.

Context & Problem Description

Based on ample research, this team has identified a lack of awareness and understanding regarding the proper management of food waste, yard trimmings, and other organic matter or biomass. Initiatives like Stanislaus 2030 have outlined the opportunities contained in the biomass many call trash, but citizens are skeptical of the benefit and local industries lack a local workforce ready to be a part of the bioeconomy. Within MJC, biomass should be utlized as a feedstock for clean energy production.

Problem Category

Circular Economy

How did you identify this problem? (Research, Interviews, etc.)

As a part of the MJC Biomass Project, this team researched challenges within the circular bioeconomy through papers, speakers, tours, and interviews of varying sectors. Agriculture, education, and industry were all sectors explored with the help of local farms, BEAM Circular, UCANR, Modesto Public Works, Aemetis, Divert, the Almond Board, CA (ABC), and MJC. Each sector emphasized the growing need for cross-sector collaboration to capture feedstocks for use in methane extraction for clean fuel.

Are you currently enrolled at Modesto Junior College?


Problem Details

Who are those affected by this problem? (Provide detailed information including statistics, demographics, etc.)

At the heart of this issue is a build up of waste which fails to be utilized. As landfills fill with waste, all of the MJC community, along with local industry, will suffer the effects of lost revenue streams and growing greenhouse emissions.

How often does this problem occur?

Within MJC alone, a growing number of students and personnel consume goods on a daily basis, produce great amounts of waste. Beyond MJC, few companies have been able to repurpose byproducts, so yearly manufacturing is throwing away tons of waste.

How long has the problem been going on?

Within MJC alone, a growing number of students and personnel consume goods on a daily basis, produce great amounts of waste. Beyond MJC, few companies have been able to repurpose byproducts, so tons of biomass is dumped for yearly manufacturing.

How is the problem disrupting your community?

Shipping waste off to an incinerator or landfill is costly and these waste solutions are not sustainable. Landfills alone present a range of issues. Landfill pollution affects water channels by leakage and the atmosphere by the release of methane.

Is the issue perceived as a problem by the community at large?

The MJC Biomass Project, CSTF, Stanislaus 2030, BEAM Circular, and the ABC Biomass Workgroup are results of the citizens’ of Stanislaus County, and beyond, perceiving the dangers of waste build-up, even if the true scope is not fully understood.

Is the problem limited to certain geographic areas?

All of California is struggling to create a sustainable solution to biomass waste build-up. However, Stanislaus County, and the greater North San Joaquin Valley, face a critical level of this issue do to the vast amount of agricultural and manufacturing residues of biomass co-products produced in this region. Therefore, without a circular management process, the seemingly useless biomass is forced into destitute alternatives which affect precious waterways and air quality.

Who are the Stakeholders, those wanting this problem to be fixed?

A long list of stakeholders want to secure CA’s biomass. Large collaborations like the CBIO Collaborative, with leaders BEAM Circular, UC Merced, and LBNL, along with Prof. Deborah Gilbert, Prof. Bill Anelli, and Mr. Trevor Carter, want solutions.

Solution Overview

Solution Name

Where are the Chickens?

One-Line Solution Summary

MJC team builds low-emission biofuel pilot projects with campus biomass waste.

Solution Pitch (This is your Elevator Pitch)

Harnessing biomass waste diverted from MJC, students will design and construct biodigesters to create clean biofuel to promote innovative thinking and circular waste management.

Solution Description

To reduce the amount of biomass sent out to landfills or waste-to-energy facilities, projects will be established through the Innovation Center (IC) to develop usable fuels, bioethanol and methane (natural gas). Initially, a small scale biodigester will be made by students, with faculty and community aid. Additionally, we will collect biomass waste from locations across the MJC campus to feed the digester. These projects are to be displayed at MJC community events, including Science Night.

Team Leader Email (College/Organization/Etc.)

Solution Details

How long have you been working on your solution?

Since the Biomass Project began in Fall 2023, this team has prepared research to recognize the nuances of this problem which this solution addresses. Every month, we have consistently added to our research and grown our network to develop solutions.

How/Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

The extensive network of professionals we have established in this breadbasket of the nation is a unique resource to support the logistics of our solution. With proficiencies in chemistry, electronics, and leadership, our team is prepared to thrive.

What steps have you taken to understand the needs of the population you want to serve?

Interviews have been conducted with local farmers and business people who comprise our citizenry to hear every perspective. Engagement with 5 MJC schools, campus services, high schools, and other colleges has refined our goals and combated obstacles.

Which aspects of the problem does your solution most closely address?

The full scope of MJC's green community work to reduce its footprint is unseen by a community in need of inspiration. Our solution offers a simple method to amplify student-mentor partnerships which fosters emission-reducing innovation and discovery.

What is your solution's current stage of development?

Initial designs, supplies, and feedstock recipes are in place for the biodigester. A workspace and most tools have already been secured through the IC. The designs allows for a 5-gallon water jug to be a mobile base with easy access to add feedstock.

Implementing Phase

What is your implementation plan?

In the IC, we will begin construction of the first biodigester. As we build, we will collect waste from the MJC yard and cafeteria and prepare it for the digester. Upon activating the digestion process, we will present our project at MJC functions.

How many people do you plan to serve in the next year?

Amongst the IC, Food Services, School of Ag, Science Night event, and other MJC functions, we expect to serve over 1000 students, faculty, and community members. As this solution expands to local high schools or 4-H clubs, more can be served.

What are your 6-month and 12-month goals?

In 6 months: To have presented an active biodigester to the MJC community at Science Night. In 12 months: To establish a branch within the IC dedicated to biomass conversion where an optimized version of the biodigester is built.

What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year?

First on the list is the cost to build and maintain this project. PVC, limestone powder, and sensors are all on the supplies list. Moreover, as intense STEM classes reach their peak, students will have less available time to dedicate to this project.

How do you plan to overcome these barriers?

To ensure success, we have minimized the parts and time required to complete the biodigester. Also, persistent communication and organization amongst our network of passionate citizens is the key strategy to stay on track, despite future setbacks.

How are you measuring or planning to measure your progress toward your goals?

Through monthly meetings with our mentors, Hughes and Gilbert, we will continue to regularly assess our progress to ensure we are moving forward. Over time, we will measure the amount of waste we have diverted as a means of measuring our impact.

Do you currently partner with any individuals/organizations?


How are you working with them?

Dean Laura Maki of the School of Science, Math, and Engineering is a partner, along with Mr. Trevor Carter of YCCD facilities, Interim-Dean Troy Gravatt from the School of Agriculture, and the CBIO Workforce Development Working Group.

The MJC Biomass Project: The MJC Climate and Sustainability Taskforce: The MJC Innovation Center: The CBIO Collaborative: Intial tool and material list for biodigester: Tools req: 1. Hole saw a. 6mm or 3” (for the 2" uniseal) b. 44mm or 1.75" (1 3/4") (for the 1" uniseal) c. 29 mm or 1" to 1.125" (1 1/8") (for the 1/2" bulkhead fitting) 2. Cordless drill (for hole saws) 3. Silicone (for filling holes) 4. Hacksaw 5. PVC cutter (must work for 2" pipe) 6. Denatured alcohol 7. Leather safety gloves 8. Safety glasses Materials: 1. A rigid 5-gallon water jug with lid 2. PVC schedule 40 pipe a. 2" diameter - 2ft long b. 1/2" diameter - 2ft long c. 1" - 2 ft long 3. Uniseal - 2" (for 2" feed pipe) 4. Uniseal - 1" (for 1" slurry (fertilizer) outflow pipe) 5. Bulkhead fitting - 1/2" 6. PVC adapter - 2" to 4" 7. Tee - 1" 8. Elbow a. 1" elbow b. 1/2" elbow 9. Slip to slip PVC ball valve (or equivalent) - 1/2" 10. Slip to thread adapter - 1/2" 11. Thread to barb nipple - 1/2" 12. Clear PVC hose - 5/8" outer diameter / 1/2" inner diameter - 10 ft long 13. Barbed splice adapter - 5/8" From