July 17 should be a big day for Gills Onions LLC.
The Oxnard, Calif.-based onion processor is unveiling its onion processing facility, complete with the ability to run itself with onion juice extracted from onion waste.
The facility processes onions for the fresh market with whole peeled onions, onion slices and onion dices for foodservice and retail use, as well as for the processing industry.

“We built an advanced energy recovery system,” said Nikki Rodoni, sustainability coordinator. “We generate about 300,000 pounds of onion waste per day.”

From that waste material, Gills Onions will extract the juice and send it for conversion into methane. Hydrogen is stripped off, and that feeds into two fuel cells that power the facility.

“We’ve installed two 300-kilowatt fuel cells, so we’re generating 600 kilowatts 24/7 at our processing facility,” Rodoni said.

Rodoni joined the company a year and a half ago and has spent a lot of her time devoted to this project.

The leftover onion waste, after its juice is extracted, is used as cattle feed.

“This is utilizing 100% of our waste,” Rodoni said.

As of July 7, everything was up and running, but there was no biogas yet. The onion juice was still acclimating, Rodoni said.

A $2.7 million rebate from the Self Generation Incentive Program, a program of the California Public Utilities Commission, as well as a few other incentives, helped the company along the way.

Along with the new facility, the company plans to unveil a slew of sustainability efforts.

For one, the company joined the Climate Registry, a nonprofit North American organization that is working on standards to calculate and verify reports on greenhouse gas emissions.

Gills Onions is reporting its carbon dioxide emissions to the registry, and is working to set a baseline from which to constantly improve its outputs.

“Eventually everyone will have to report CO2 emissions, so we’re just taking a voluntary step to start that,” Rodoni said.

The company is also working with the University of California Santa Barbara’s Donald Bren Schools of Environmental Science & Management on a project to become completely zero-waste at its Oxnard processing facility and administrative office.

Through a group project in the school’s master’s program, students are doing a comprehensive audit and analysis of all Gills Onions material, energy, and water flows; quantifying its waste streams; and identifying opportunities for reducing, reusing, recycling and substituting of materials where possible, according to the school’s Web site.

The company plans to reveal more details about its newest facility, as well as its coinciding sustainable initiatives, at the ribbon cutting on July 17.

Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is scheduled to be one of the keynote speakers at the event.