Photo: Russ Heinl/Shutterstock

More Cities and Private Companies Are Using Wastewater to Create Energy

Sustainability News
by Tim Wenger Aug 21, 2020

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

The National Western Complex in Denver, Colorado, is best-known for hosting the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo, which takes place in January of each year. The complex is about to embark on a $1 billion overhaul, modernizing its facilities and adding new buildings to the complex — but with a unique twist: The sewer pipes transporting wastewater from the complex will be used to generate electricity. As a result, 2,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be kept out of the atmosphere each year. This week’s Climate Win looks at this practice with a hopeful eye on it becoming widespread in urban water grids across the world.

“The system is scheduled to be complete in 2022,” National Western Center CEO Brad Buchanan told Matador via email. “The sewer-heat recovery system will initially heat and cool seven buildings, with the ability to expand to other future buildings on the extensive 250-acre campus. At this point, we don’t expect it will serve buildings off-campus, but we’re open to the possibilities.”

Buchanan’s mention of the system’s possibility for being used to provide power to additional buildings beyond its original reach raises an interesting question: Could urban wastewater systems become important sources of heat energy in the future?

Now, it would be tough to go further on the topic without acknowledging the punned elephant in the room. Energy from wastewater is the most literal example of “dirty” clean energy. But if the concept grosses you out, think of a water grid as if it were a garden. Compost and natural fertilizer provide plants with the nutrients they need. The grid works the same way, but for urban areas.

A prime example of successful broadscale implementation is the Vancouver Regional District in British Columbia, where the region has retrofitted four of its wastewater treatment facilities with the ability to generate energy on site. Methane produced during the wastewater process is used to heat and power the facilities themselves, similar to what’s happening at the National Western Complex in Denver but on a bigger scale.

“Using waste as a resource is one of Metro Vancouver’s guiding principles, and we continue to research, evaluate and implement technologies to recover energy from wastewater,” said Richard Stewart, Chair of Metro Vancouver’s Liquid Waste Committee, to Matador. “Metro Vancouver’s liquid waste treatment facilities already meet nearly all of their heating and half of their electricity needs through energy recovery.”

And the city hopes to export some of the energy in the near future.

“Metro Vancouver soon plans to start selling recovered energy to outside users, in the form of renewable natural gas and as heat for a local district energy system,” Stewart said. “Energy recovery supports climate action by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the demand for fossil fuels.”

But the most impressive of efforts is taking place across the Atlantic in Aarhus, Denmark. Here, the Marselisborg Wastewater Treatment Plant has been adapted to generate enough energy from wastewater to power 150 percent of what the plant itself uses — making it entirely self-powered. The remaining 50 percent is then used to pump the city’s water supply, making Aarhus the first city to generate its water treatment and sourcing needs from energy produced on-site.

More climate wins

JetBlue announced that all of its domestic flights are now carbon neutral, thanks to offset purchases for the fuel used on the flights. Not that this prevents any of the emissions from being spilled into the atmosphere, but the hope with offsets is that an equal amount of greenhouse gases will then be pulled out later.

Five major automobile manufacturers have circumvented the Trump administration’s relaxed fuel efficiency regulations and have signed a deal with California to adhere to stricter fuel efficiency standards. The New York Times reported that Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, and Volvo will increase their vehicles’ fuel economy to about 51 miles per gallon by 2026, a jump of 13 mpg from today’s standard of 38.

Migratory birds scored a win this week when a US District Judge ruled that oil and gas companies should be held accountable for accidental bird killings, not only intentional killings, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, according to a report in The Hill. In a nod to literature’s influence, the decision from US District Judge Valerie Caproni opened with a quote from To Kill A Mockingbird.

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.