Building a Thriving, Sustainable Future for Washington Agriculture
In the future, our quality of life will depend in large part on productive agriculture and a healthy climate. To sustain both, and the lands and waters that agriculture depends on, win-win solutions are needed. Fortunately, innovative new approaches are providing such solutions and deserve to be replicated at scale in the US.
In 2021, Washington State created the nation’s first program to advance industrial symbiosis, a Danish concept where one company’s waste energy, water, or materials becomes another company’s valued resource. By turning waste to value and closing loops where waste is created, economic value climbs while waste, pollution, and costs drop.
In 2022, Washington took the next step and commissioned a $500,000 study of agricultural symbiosis (AS), directing Washington State University (WSU) to partner with the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) to “develop recommendations for increasing the economic value and sustainability of Washington’s agriculture sector through the use of industrial symbiosis principles.”
Per the legislation, agricultural symbiosis “connect(s) agriculture producers and processors with partners to achieve synergies through systems-based resource sharing, resulting in economic benefits and value creation for all participants, through sustainable resource recovery and optimization of energy, water, and organic waste streams.”
CSI is supporting groundbreaking AS projects in Washington, and is working with WSU and Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) to develop recommendations by June 2023 for a statewide Ag Symbiosis initiative that helps ag communities benefit from these new opportunities. WSU is a national R&D innovation leader with interdisciplinary initiatives in bioeconomy and sustainable agriculture. PNNL researchers are doing groundbreaking work in a variety of fields relevant to Ag Symbiosis.
Benefits of Ag Symbiosis
Ag Symbiosis companies will specialize in cross-sector, multi-resource, whole-system optimizing solutions, spanning:
Value Generation: Creating economic value through value-added products, system-based efficiencies, and increased resource utilization.
Clean Water: Enhanced water efficiency and recycling, and pollution reduction
Clean Energy: Efficient and zero-carbon energy to supply electricity, fuels, and thermal needs
Resource Recovery & Cost Reduction: Conversion of costly agricultural, forestry, and industrial waste streams into valuable products, including clean energy, nutraceuticals, clean fertilizers, soil enhancement products, and other high-value products. And as wastes are reduced, there is often a corresponding decrease in permitting and compliance burdens and costs.
Carbon to Value: Converting climate pollution streams into value through carbon capture and utilization (CCU) strategies
Examples of Ag Symbiosis
The concept of ag symbiosis is as old as farming. Food scraps were fed to livestock, manure was used to fertilize food, and so on. But new science and understanding have revealed promising new possibilities, and we learn more every day. Examples of high value but not yet common practices include:
In a hypothetical town in eastern Washington, food processors use vast amounts of natural gas and electricity for heating and cooling. They wash, clean, boil, steam, fry, and freeze vast amounts of agricultural products for shipment to buyers around the world. Down the street, huge data centers reject heat 24/7 during even the coldest days of winter.
Under ag symbiosis, these heating and cooling cycles are connected in a thermal loop that uses the heat rejected for cooling in one location to supply heat where it is needed elsewhere. Likewise, processes that generate waste heat can be harnessed to pre-heat other hot-water processes saving energy, resources, and cost.