October 12, 2021

World’s Highest Installation of a Biodigester at the ALMA Observatory

SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA, CHILE — The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory is the largest radio telescope in the world. With the closest city being 50 km away, the cost of transporting food waste can become astronomical. It was necessary for ALMA’s staff to find a food waste solution that was onsite, easy to maintain, and clean.

In 2015, ALMA Observatory purchased and implemented an LFC-200 biodigester made by Power Knot. In 2021, they purchased the latest version of the LFC-200 biodigester from Energía ON, a Power Knot partner and distributor in Chile.

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory is the largest radio telescope in the world. It consists of 66 radio telescopes that measure electromagnetic radiation to study star formation and molecular clouds. ALMA is an international collaboration between Europe (ESO), North America (NRAO) and East Asia (NAOJ), and the Republic of Chile. It has been fully operational since March 2013.

ALMA is constructed on the 5,000 m (16,000 ft) elevation Chajnantor plateau in the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile. The location was chosen due to the high elevation, low humidity, scant clouds, scarce radio interference, and minimal light pollution which are contributing factors to optimal conditions for astronomical observation.

There are approximately 200-300 employees working onsite at any given time. It is approximately 50 km from the closest city. Due to its remote location, it was necessary to find a simple, onsite food waste solution that would enable staff to focus on their jobs at the ALMA Observatory.

In 2015, ALMA Observatory purchased and implemented an LFC-200 biodigester made by Power Knot. In 2021, they purchased the latest version of the LFC-200 biodigester from Energía ON, a Power Knot partner and distributor in Chile.

Remote location with high foot traffic

The ALMA is a state-of-the-art telescope designed to study light from some of the coldest objects in the Universe. It is constructed on the Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes, one  of the highest and driest astronomical observatory sites on Earth. Radiation signals from space are absorbed by water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere. ALMA’s distance from civilization helps reduce noise and creates optimal conditions for astronomical observation.

With the closest city being 50 km away, the cost of transporting food waste can become astronomical. It was necessary for ALMA’s staff to find a food waste solution that was onsite, easy to maintain, and clean. They purchased an LFC-200 biodigester in 2015 to avoid dealing with the labor intensive needs of composting and other waste management solutions.

At this high altitude, the air is thin. This affects a biodigester in two ways. Firstly, the biodigester operates aerobically — the microorganisms require oxygen to digest the waste without smells. Secondly, air is needed to cool the motor and gearbox. Both of these obstacles are not a problem for Power Knot’s standard LFC biodigesters, all of which are built for tough environments.

Seven years of solid service

In pre-pandemic times, the ALMA Observatory experienced high foot traffic despite its remote location. Tourists would willingly sign up for month-long waitlists for a chance to explore the incredible facilities. With over 200 employees constantly staggering shifts to cover the grounds, food waste is generated. Since the inception of the machine, the LFC biodigester has processed around 200 kg of food waste per day. 

Recently, the Alma Observatory chose to upgrade their food waste digester. They traded in the biodigester they purchased in 2015 for the latest model of LFC-200 biodigester with LFC-VI technology. The Alma Observatory continues to use the LFC biodigester as their premier food waste solution as they have done for nearly seven years without issues.

About ALMA Observatory

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory is the largest radio telescope in the world. It consists of 66 radio telescopes that measure electromagnetic radiation to study star formation and molecular clouds. ALMA is an international collaboration between Europe (ESO), North America (NRAO) and East Asia (NAOJ), and the Republic of Chile.

Industry: Astronomy

Location: Chile

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