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Harnessing Bioenergy at Wastewater Treatment Plants

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This paper addresses harnessing bioenergy at wastewater treatment plants by focusing on supply-side management: biogas production and use. Successful case studies are compared and contrasted in terms of economic, environmental, social, and operational objectives. Rules of thumb for determining when a project is economically viable are discussed. Air emissions and permitting considerations are covered for equipment and overall installations. These case studies include biogas used for process and space heating using steam or hot water boilers, and for combined heat and power projects using cogeneration equipment, such as internal combustion engines, gas turbines (conventional and mini), several types of fuel cells, and Stirling engines. Examples of where carbon dioxide is removed from the biogas and “biomethane” is fed to a natural gas pipeline or further compressed and used as a vehicle fuel are also included.

Several wastewater treatment plants are also taking advantage of the opportunity to supplement wastewater solids fed to digesters with organic waste from food processing or other sources (restaurant waste, etc.). This approach–known as codigestion–has several advantages: it increases biogas production, decreases solid waste at landfills, and decreases greenhouse gases by capturing and beneficially using methane that otherwise could be emitted to the atmosphere at the landfill. Successful case studies of plants practicing codigestion are described.

Harnessing bioenergy at wastewater treatment plants has the potential to produce enough electricity for more than 4 million people, while also reducing greenhouse gases. Diverting the organic fraction of municipal solid waste to anaerobic digesters would further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and could generate enough electricity to serve more than 10 million additional people. This potential is based on just the wastewater treatment plants and organic fraction of municipal solid waste generated in the United States alone. With worldwide application and using agricultural organic wastes, the potential is immense. This paper on harnessing bioenergy at wastewater treatment plants brings together the collective experience of numerous bioenergy projects in the United States and Canada. Those involved in the planning of biosolids and biogas facilities will benefit from the lessons learned, rules of thumb, and insights obtained from these case studies.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2008

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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