After more than 20 years farming onions, Steve Gill still breaks out in tears at his processing facility. Only now he's crying all the way to the bank. He recently began using juice from his pungent crop to create energy to run his refrigerators and lighting. That's slicing $700,000 annually off the electric bill at his 14-acre plant in Oxnard. He's also saving $400,000 a year on disposal costs. And he has secured more than $3 million in government and power company incentives to do it.
Gill figures the $9.5-million system will pay for itself in less than six years while eliminating up to 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions a year. "It's a great sustainability story, but it was first a business decision to solve a waste problem," said Gill, 59, who co-owns the company with his brother David. "But in doing so, we solved a lot of environmental problems too." Gills Onions is one of a small but growing cadre of U.S. companies generating their own electricity on site with waste from their production processes. In addition to plant material, firms are using a variety of feedstocks, including animal manure, vegetable oil, whey -- even beer.