Food and wastewater biogas to heat 5,200 New York homes

Sensemaking / Food and wastewater biogas to heat 5,200 New York homes

A new project at the city’s largest wastewater treatment plant will convert biogas into natural gas for domestic and commercial use.

By tess riley / 11 Feb 2014

The recently announced Newtown Creek Renewable Gas Demonstration Project aims to turn New York City (NYC)’s mounting food waste problem into a solution, diverting organic food waste from landfill and mixing it with wastewater sludge to increase biogas production.

Around 40% of the biogas by-product from the municipal wastewater treatment process carried out at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is currently reused, helping to power the facility’s operations. The new project will convert biogas from food waste and wastewater into pipeline-quality renewable natural gas that can also be used for residential or commercial purposes. The ultimate goal is to reclaim 100% of the biogas produced by the plant and convert it into power, meaning it will not contribute to the plant’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The project is the first in the United States to directly introduce renewable biogas produced by a wastewater treatment plan into a local distribution system. The predicted outcomes are impressive: enough energy to heat 5,200 homes and a 90,000 metric tonne reduction in GHG emissions, the equivalent of removing almost 19,000 cars from the road according to NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Dr David Fulford, Director of Kingdom Bioenergy Ltd, believes this is an important step in the development of sustainable energy sources: “Shale gas is a quick solution, but leads to longer-term environmental impacts such as climate change. Energy from waste is a longer-term solution, with positive environmental benefit as recycled carbon can be used to offset fossil [fuel] carbon [emissions] and pollution is reduced.”

The Newtown Creek Project is the result of a public-private partnership between New York City, Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and National Grid. According to the latter, which is funding the project, the capital investment required to deliver the renewable gas across its entire network, which covers four states, would be almost $7 billion. However, this would deliver significant economic and environmental benefits, including 9,000 new local jobs and a 16 million tonne annual reduction in GHGs.

“When you think about the sustainable energy future and renewables”, says Don Chahbazpour, Director of Network Strategy, National Grid, “it’s not just solar and wind. Renewable gas is a unique solution that utilises existing waste streams from a variety of resources and leverages the natural gas network to deliver a renewable fuel.”

The Newtown Creek project forms part of New York City’s PlaNYC goal of reducing municipal GHG emissions by 30% by 2017. Other initiatives include a city-wide extension of the bus service network, support for urban agriculture and turning underutilised spaces into playgrounds. – Tess Riley

Photo credit: Victoria Belanger/flickr

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