How Today's Wastewater Will Fuel Tomorrow
City of Englewood on the cutting edge of sustainability
Currently when wastewater enters the plant, bacteria break down the organic matter, like human feces, releasing methane gas. This methane gas is then burned off as waste. What the Biogas to Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) Project proposes is to clean out the impurities from the methane – things like carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and siloxanes – thereby transforming the methane into natural gas that can be sold to companies like Xcel Energy to heat homes, power vehicles and generate electricity.
“The beauty of the project is that it’s using something we’re wasting anyway,” said Blair Corning, Deputy Director of Strategic Programs for Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant (L/E WWTP). “So we’re helping the environment, generating revenue, and because we have the gas and infrastructure already, it’s all very feasible.”
In addition to the revenue from selling the gas itself, there is also the potential for selling credits to fuel refineries to meet their EPA obligations to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Both streams of revenue will lead to lower rates for residents.
While the potential financial gain for the City is exciting, there’s another important aspect of the project to consider, according to L/E WWTP Director John Kuosman.
“The project will help minimize emissions released from the facility into the community, as well as minimizing the City’s carbon footprint as a whole,” he said. “But it also really sets the stage for the City adopting even more innovative practices going forward. The success of this project will build desire to do more of these types of activities in the future.”
The Biogas Project is part of a larger shift in thinking when it comes to wastewater treatment and the industry in general. Facilities across the country are changing their names from wastewater plants to water resource recovery facilities, as communities are viewing the treatment of water not as a burden but as an opportunity to recover valuable resources and offset the cost of protecting public health and safeguarding the environment – places like the South Platte River.
The technology to make the methane gas suitable for use in natural gas pipelines already exists, and similar programs have successfully been implemented in Grand Junction, Boulder and Longmont. The L/E WWTP is scheduled to finalize agreements and financing in the first half of 2018 for construction to begin in Q3.
“Wastewater is beginning to be looked at as a resource instead of a problem,” said Corning. “Before it was just something we had to deal with, but now we’re looking at it as a potential resource. It isn’t just waste if we can figure out ways to recycle and reuse it beneficially.”