In food and beverage production, organic waste is almost always a byproduct. Whether it’s eggshells from a bakery or spent hops from a brewery, the team at Viresco has developed a process that can take that waste and turn it into renewable energy.
“11 years ago, when we started this, we knew that customers were going to want to try our process, see how it works on their waste streams and operate it with their employees,” said Viresco President Joe Burke.
So, they did what any startup would do: built a fully-functioning mobile demonstration plant and drove it around the country to connect with future clients and demonstrate the process. The tour was a great success and resulted in Viresco procuring a biorefinery loan guarantee from the USDA.
Long before becoming president of an up-and-coming energy technology company, Burke was an intern. This summer, as he and his team looked over the projects they wanted to tackle, he thought to himself, “what a great way to get college students involved with our company.”
As part of the Viresco process, every three seconds their program gathers new data. So, after posting a position on the SciTech job board, Burke hired Pat Jackson, a mechanical engineering major at the University of St. Thomas, to collect all that data and make something of it.
Jackson started his internship in May and went straight to work. In just a few months he created a live dashboard that monitors everything from how much they’re feeding into the process to how much energy is coming out.
“Literally, he created those displays from scratch,” Burke said. “It’s a huge deal and it’s really impactful for us. I would be willing to bet that there are no other digesters in the country that do this kind of deep analytics. It’s process-driven stuff and it helps differentiate our company.”
Burke’s praise was well received. “It’s a cool feeling,” Jackson said, “to know that something I did is going directly back into the company and is making a pretty significant impact right away.”
As technologically advanced as this whole process is, it all comes back to sustainability, something both Jackson and Burke are very passionate about.
Jackson decided to minor in sustainability after participating in a volunteer trip to the Galapagos where he got to work on habitats for giant tortoises.
“That really piqued my interest,” Jackson said. “I had already decided that I wanted to do engineering but after that I shifted my focus onto ways that an engineer could be used to promote sustainability. So this has been a really great opportunity to get a foot in the door within that field.”
“What I want [Jackson] to know is there’s this incredible opportunity in front of us as a country, and as a world, to better utilize our natural resources and create more of circular environment,” Burke concluded. “So keep asking questions and keep trying to solve new problems as they come up.”
As their technology continues to develop, Viresco is looking for more companies to collaborate with. Jackson is even taking the lead on a potential partnership with a popular Minneapolis Brewery and he’s looking forward to interacting with clients one-on-one.
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