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Barriers to Biogas Utilization for WWTPs — A Summary of WERF's Project into Biogas Use Barriers

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The Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) are conducting a project with Brown and Caldwell, Black & Veatch, Hemenway Inc., and the Northeast Biosolids and Residuals Association (NEBRA) to determine the barriers that wastewater utilities face when implementing anaerobic digestion and combined heat and power (CHP) projects. The project team developed an online survey to determine the most significant barriers facing utilities; this survey was distributed nationally and completed by over 200 respondents. The survey findings were then presented and discussed with dozens of utility representatives at three focus groups and one still-planned focus group in 2011. Because the project is ongoing, final conclusions are not yet available, but this paper presents a number of well-developed preliminary findings. Based on the work completed thus far, the following findings are evident:

The largest, most widespread barriers to biogas use are economic, related to either higher priority demands on limited capital resources or perceptions that the economics do not justify the investment.

Outside agents like power utilities for CHP and gas utilities for renewable compressed natural gas can be significant barriers.

Air permitting requirements can create an extremely significant barrier in specific geographies/permitting situations.

Public agencies' decision-making bureaucracy/configuration can hinder biogas use Advocates are needed within individual agencies to overcome institutional inertia and promote utility-specific biogas use projects.

A surprisingly high percentage of our respondents from smaller-capacity facilities have found means to justify biogas use projects; as such, it seems that textbook 5- or 10- mgd lower-capacity barriers can be overcome with creative thinking. In juxtaposition, a number of mid-sized plants (10 to 25 mgd) also identified inadequate gas production as a barrier.

There has been considerably more interest and investment in biogas use over the past five years than in the prior years.

There is also greater interest in enhanced efficiency, operational cost reduction, and sustainability today that supports biogas use projects.
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Keywords: Anaerobic Digestion; Biogas; Biosolids; Cogeneration; Combined Heat and Power; Green Power; Renewable Energy

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2011

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