Wastewater Treatment Plant to Produce Electricity From Fuel Cells

Just yesterday, I posted an overview of various waste-to-energy initiatives as part of our series on biofuels. Today, I am here to tell you about a new development that extends this concept into new territory—the use of biomass to generate even cleaner electricity, directly through the use of a fuel cell.

The idea of capturing biogas at wastewater facilities and using it to provide power is not new. For many years, plants have been using anaerobic digestion technology to produce biogas which was then burned to produce power in conventional gas turbines, while reducing the quantity of residual waste at the same time.

In California, the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) has been using digester gas to provide power to their plant for some time. However in the face of increasingly stringent air quality regulations for power generation, they decided to move up to a cleaner solution.

Working in conjunction with Anaergia Services, a division of Anaergia, provider of biogas production systems, and Fuel Cell Energy, makers of molten carbonate fuel cells (who we profiled earlier this year), the company implemented a 2.8 MW fuel cell solution that provides super clean power to help run the RP-1 treatment facility in Ontario. The project came about as a public-private partnership in which Anaergia owns the power plant and sells power to IEUA under a purchase power agreement (PPA). This allowed the project to move forward without the need for a major capital campaign, while helping IEUA to meet its environmental objectives. The twenty-year agreement is largest of its kind to date.

I guess if we can have “clean coal,” then we can also have “clean poo-power,” which, by the way, is far cleaner and ready to go.

According to Terry Catlin, Board President, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, “Installation of this fuel cell operating on renewable biogas is an important component of our renewable energy generation strategy. The clean electrical generation process and the reliable 24/7 operating nature of the fuel cell will help us attain the objectives of our strategic energy plan and position us to meet ever more stringent clean air emission requirements.”

Fuel Cell Energy’s molten carbonate fuel cells are unique in that they can run on pipeline quality natural gas, rather than pure hydrogen like most other fuel cells. That makes them ideally suited for projects of this type. But since natural gas does contain carbon, there is some CO2 given off. The amount is small enough, however, for the technology to be given an “ultra-clean” designation by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

The enclosed video from Anaergia is a computer simulation that describes their process. (Warning: Simulated poop alert!)

Anaergia Inc’s CEO, Steve Watzeck, said, on the occasion of the launch, “The RP-1 Fuel Cell Project with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency is a world-class example of how energy self-sufficiency can be achieved by generating renewable and cost effective electricity on-site under a power purchase agreement. This project will have a lasting and positive impact on the area by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District and providing long-term electricity cost savings to the district.”

Like yesterday’s story about Fiberight, this is another great example of the kind of distributed, synergistic process that emulates the way things work in the natural world, where truly, nothing is wasted. This is definitely the direction we need to take if we are going to attain a sustainable future.
[Image credit: sandwichgirl: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

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RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

4 responses

  1. This kind of energy source could change the
    country, and subsequently the world. Not simply power production from
    sewer facilities, but other uses of waste products for energy

  2. Genuinely curious why this has to move so slow. Would it be controversial for a politician to simply demand that this be done? It’s clearly cost effective. Why isn’t every major municipality in the country all over this?

  3. What the fine people at IEUA failed to mention is their Fuel Cell is
    running on natural gas not biogas. They also forgot to tell the rate
    payers in the area that the cost of the energy produced will be more
    expensive than the cost of buying power from Edison. Good going guys,
    way to lie.

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