Feasibility Study for a Campus Digester (2015-2016)

In fiscal year 2014, Duke University and the School of Medicine produced over 1,900 tons of compostable waste. The majority of this waste makes its way to landfills, where it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and leachate that can pollute ground and surface water.

Anaerobic digestion technology can mitigate these problems, allowing for organic waste to be diverted and used to produce methane. Captured methane can then be used as an alternative fuel, and by-products from the digestion process can also be used as fertilizers and soil amendments. But to integrate such technology into the existing waste management system on the Duke campus poses significant operational challenges.

This project set out to identify those challenges, assess how they might be answered and pave the path for a significant contribution to the University’s goal of climate neutrality by 2024.

Team members conducted a feasibility study comprised of a food waste audit at Duke, a survey of relevant federal, state and university policies and an economic modeling exercise.

The team identified several obstacles to operation of an on-campus digester, and the economic feasibility analysis indicated that such a digester would not be cost-competitive given the low electricity rates paid by Duke and the low price of natural gas. However, the team members concluded that a small food-waste digester could be justified on the basis of its educational value if students were allowed to design and build it on campus, using it as a learning lab.


Fall 2015 – Spring 2016

Team Outcomes

Bass Connections in Energy: Feasibility Study for a Campus Digester (poster by Amanda Duggan, Wusi Fan, Yeon Ji Kim, Andrew Seelaus, Jake Steinberg, Heng Ye)


Andrew Seelaus

Amanda Duggan

Starting from Scratch (Eva Kim)

Defining the Problem: Feasibility Study for a Campus Digester (Eva Kim)

Cooking Up a Team (Amanda Duggan)

Obtaining Expert Perspectives on Bio-Digesters (Wusi Fan)

Getting Our Team “Unstuck” (Jake Steinberg)

What Do Renewable Energy Credits Smell Like? (Andrew Seelaus)

This Team in the News

Bass Connections Team “Digests” New Technology in Charlotte

Duke Celebrates Those Creating a Green Future

Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative 2016 Annual Report

Students Assess Whether Food Waste Could Help Duke Achieve Carbon Neutrality

Working on a Bass Connections team taught me that you have to be able to grasp the problem in all its complexity and then you have to use that understanding to put together periodic work goals. The work plan’s not going to be handed to you. —Eva Kim

Team Leaders

  • Charles Adair, Duke Sustainability Program
  • Marc Deshusses, Pratt School of Engineering-Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Jay Golden, Nicholas School of the Environment-Earth and Climate Sciences
  • Brian Murray, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy

/graduate Team Members

  • Amanda Duggan, Business Administration-MBA, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment
  • Wusi Fan, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment
  • Andrew Seelaus, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment, Business Administration-MBA
  • Heng (Victor) Ye, Master of Engineering Mgmt-MEG

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Yeon Ji (Eva) Kim, Environmental Engineering(BSE)
  • Jake Steinberg, Mechanical Engineering (BSE), Mathematics (BS2)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Arwen Buchholz, Duke Facilities Management
  • Jason Elliott, Duke Sustainability Program
  • Russell Thompson, Duke Facilities Management