Wastewater treatment plants soon to provide natural gas and bio-oil in their services
Ed. M. DeHart
With the U.S. alone annually creating billions of gallons of waste with nowhere to go, companies are looking for ways to make wastewater useful.
In February, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Southern California Gas Company (SCGC) $1.2 million to test a new technology for converting wastewater into natural gas and bio-crude oil. Genifuel Corp, a private company working with the SCGC on this project, has developed new “hydrothermal processing” technology which combines pressure and heat to break down waste material and convert it into methane and liquid bio-crude.
Every year, 16,500 U.S. municipal wastewater treatment plants produce 8 million dry tons of biosolids. Current processes for wastewater and other wet biomass disposal employ microbes to break down the water material through a process called anaerobic digestion. Solid waste material is normally incinerated, put in a landfill, or used as fertilizer once it’s been digested. These methods allow for little resource recovery opportunity.
Through pressing legislation and the arrival of new technology, wastewater utility managers are realizing the potential sitting at the end of their treatment processes. New improvements show how to implement energy recovery while simultaneously reducing their carbon footprint.
“Converting the solids produced in wastewater treatment plants across the U.S. could produce 128 cubic feet of natural gas a year saving $2.2 billion in solids disposal costs,” Jeff Reed, the Director of Business Strategy and Advanced Technology at SCGC, stated. “A city of one million could produce more than 600 million cubic feet of natural gas per year, save more than $7 million per year in disposal costs, and power nearly 7,000 vehicles per day.” Director Reed also noted that the process can be very effective “using existing infrastructure”. New technology could be integrated into current systems without considerable change.
So far, tests have been successful in the laboratory, and SCGC’s goal is to show that the technology works in a commercial setting. Eligibility for full-scale commercial project funding will come in the next phase once SoCalGas knows how much fuel the process can produce. The design of the project is scheduled to be completed in two years.
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