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From Wastewater Treatment to Resource Recovery

EBMUD is the first U.S. water and wastewater utility to sell the excess electricity, produced solely from waste material, back to the grid.

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In the municipal water/wastewater treatment sector, budgets remain a challenge, says Eileen O’Neill, deputy executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based Water Environment Federation (WEF, www.wef.org).

Even so, “we’re seeing people investing in technologies,” O’Neill says. One such investor is the Oakland, Calif.-based East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD, www.ebmud.org). Its wastewater treatment plant serves approximately 650,000 people in an 88 sq. mile area of Alameda and Contra Costa counties along the San Francisco Bay’s east shore.

EBMUD meets the new definition WEF gives to what once was a municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP): That’s a “water-resource recovery facility,” which produces clean water and recovers nutrients (e.g., phosphorus and nitrogen), as well as produces electricity from municipal wastewater and other wastes. 

On April 3, 2012, EBMUD announced operation of a state-of-the-art 4.6-megawatt turbine that supplements three existing engines. Combined, all four can produce electricity to meet the demands of more than 13,000 homes. “We’ve turned wastes into commodities. The same materials that, once, no one wanted to touch now have become so valuable everyone wants them,” said David Williams, EBMUD director of wastewater, in a public statement.

Over the past 10 years, the utility has expanded its collection of septage waste. It also began accepting items like restaurant grease, cheese waste, chicken blood and winery wastewater from throughout central and northern California.

Williams claimed in the public statement that EBMUD is the first U.S. water and wastewater utility to sell the excess electricity, produced solely from waste material, back to the grid. As WEF’s O’Neill adds, “We’re on the cusp of a revolution here.”

C. Kenna Amos, ckamosjr@earthlink.net, is an Automation World Contributing Editor. 

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