The Biodigester is Up and Running!

After a busy summer preparing for the start-up, Princeton University’s biodigester is now operational! Many thanks to our campus partners and FOR Solutions for their on-going support and assistance.

Check out the video below from one of the first loadings and stay tuned for weekly updates as the project progresses!



More Project Updates!

In the last few weeks, we began a series of steps to prepare for our start date in June while also starting campus outreach efforts.  These included a system calibration test performed by FOR Solutions, two tours for the campus community, and the arrival of a  lift arm for loading buckets of the feedstock into the system’s hopper. See the photo essay below!

  1. FOR Solutions performs a calibration test to insure the correct electrical set-up and proper rotation of the biodigester’s mechanical systems

2. Dr. Nick shares his journey into food scraps composting and why he founded FOR Solutions to our Earth Month tour group

3. The lift arm that we will operate in order to dump buckets of uneaten food and wood shavings into the loading hopper

Earth Month Biodigester Tour

Monday, April 30, 2018 – 12:00pm

Tour the Princeton University Biodigester for Earth Month!

Advance reservation is required, please sign up  to reserve your spot.

Tour will start at the Jadwin Gym. There will be a short walk from the gym to the Biodigester site. The tour is approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour long.

Please note that the tour is only open to Princeton University students, staff and faculty. 

Project Updates!

See the below photo essay to see what we’ve been up to over the last month:

1 Arrival of a shed to store the wood shavings

2. Interior Lighting!

3.  Scale for weighing buckets of wood shavings and wasted food to insure accurate record-keeping. A big thanks to Eric Teitelbaum for assisting with set-up!

4. Utility sink for hand-washing

5. Dr. Nick visits and speaks to students in ENE 202: Designing Sustainable Systems. Two teams of students will design and build systems for the biodigester for their semester projects.

  • Patrick Brucki ’21, Tom Johnson ’19 and Max McPherson ’19 will be “Hacking” the scale to be able to collect, store, and organize the weight data on an in-house server for easy access.
  • While Lena Dubitsky ’18, Oliver Hsu ’19 and Izzy Mangan ’19 will be building a smart solar air heating system.



Our wood shavings have arrived!

Now that the biodigester has been installed, we are actively working on pulling together the final operational pieces to get the system up and running. The first item to arrive: wood shavings! 

[Food waste is not the only item being recycled by the campus biodigester, but wood shavings as well! We will be using the wood shavings in these bags which were byproducts of a NJ-based woodworking company]

Why are wood shavings needed?

For efficient aerobic decomposition to occur, organic matter should contain both nitrogen (i.e. food scraps) and carbon. Recommended carbon sources for composting traditionally include dead leaves/vegetation, paper, shredded cardboard, hay/straw, and woody materials.

Adding these “browns” to nitrogen-rich food scraps, or “greens”, creates the perfect environment for composting by providing all three inputs to support key microbial activity: nutrients, water,  and oxygen:

Organic matter + H2O + O2 -> COMPOST + byproducts (CO2, H2O, Heat)

The carbon and nitrogen in the organic matter provide energy and protein building capacity, respectively, to support the presence of microbes that transform the uneaten food and wood shavings into compost. Water embedded in the food waste provides moisture necessary for microbial growth. However too much moisture can restrict airflow, depriving the microbes of oxygen. When mixed with the food waste, the carbon source facilitates aeration by absorbing excess moisture and creating spaces for airflow.

At the start of the composting process, the ideal carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio is cited to be around 30:1. Although a useful goal to achieve, this ratio may differ depending on the bioavailability of the materials used, or the composition of the feedstock. For example, relatively more carbon-rich material needs to be added to the feedstock if a) the material has a low carbon content, b) the carbon is stored in compounds highly resistant to decomposition or c) in cases of high-moisture food scraps (think soupy v.s. starchy mixtures).

For the biodigester, acceptable materials include shredded cardboard, straw or hay, wood chips, and wood pellets; however, the founder of FOR Solutions has found that kiln-dried wood shavings (such as those pictured below) are the best option for the following reasons:

  1. They are dry enough to absorb the excess moisture in the recovered food to achieve the desired moisture content of the feedstock
  2. They have a high enough carbon content to provide for the optimal C:N ratio in the feedstock, which is 15-30:1, and
  3. They maintain their unconsolidated consistency even when wet, so they contribute to the porosity of the feedstock inside of the digestion vessel, allowing for air exchange.

Research by the founder of FOR Solutions has confirmed that a 4:1 ratio by weight of recovered food to wood shavings is optimal. However, we may need to alter that ratio as necessary depending on the make-up of our food scraps.

Aeration of the digestion vessel is achieved by a regenerative blower that provides a complete exchange of all air inside of the digestion vessel every 15 minutes.  The digestion vessel rotates once every hour.  This contributes to the decomposition of the recovered food and forces the feedstock to migrate from the input end to the discharge end of the digestion vessel, ready to be recovered and put to good use!

Stay tuned for more project updates!

Sources and to learn more general information about the composting process:


Campus Biodigester Demonstration Project


Beginning in early 2018, the University will pilot a food waste composting system behind the Fitzrandolph Observatory. The in-vessel aerobic digester will convert a portion of campus food waste into a soil amendment for University grounds, while serving as a living laboratory for multi-disciplinary investigations into all aspects of food waste conversion.

This website will document the process of the biodigester and provide more information about the project including Research Opportunities, photos and videos and more.

Stay tuned!