Newest energy source in Albany: ‘sewage sludge’
ALBANY—You can now go to the potty to keep the lights on.
An Albany sewage plant will be one of the first in the nation to burn excrement to generate power.
“It virtually is power from the people,” said Rich Lyons, executive director of the North Wastewater Treatment Plant in Menands, just outside Albany. “Sewage sludge is a renewable energy. It's always available.”
The new $8.6 million power generator at the North Wastewater plant is part of a decade-long $100 million push by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to help large institutions, colleges, hospitals and municipalities achieve some independence from the power grid. Combined heat and power systems, or cogeneration systems, can be used during outages to generate heat and power, and are more efficient than drawing from the energy grid.
Waste treatment plants across the country burn sludge to dispose of it. The North plant will now capture the heat from that process and turn it into power, Lyons said. It's expected to save taxpayers $400,000 a year, he said. He said the plant can supply up to 75 percent of its energy needs by burning the sludge, and will take on sludge from other plants to generate more. Officials from California, Michigan and Virginia, as well as New Zealand, have already visited to see if they can build a similar system.
Lyons said the technology is transferable to other industries, such as cement plants, that waste heat by sending it up a pipe. Cogeneration projects are better for the environment, in that they produce less pollution. They also are critically important in areas vulnerable to electrical outages, NYSERDA President John Rhodes said.
“Superstorm Sandy has demonstrated the importance of resiliency needed for not only the electric grid but for vital government and health services to operate during a power outage,” he said in a statement.
NYSERDA contributed $2 million to the water treatment plant and $5.8 million was funded through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
In peak periods of energy use, such as summer heat waves, cogeneration systems reduce the strain on the state's power grid by taking some of its biggest consumers offline. The systems run on many different kinds of fuels including natural gas, fuel cell and wood pellets.
New York University has a gas-powered cogeneration system, which allowed it to operate during Superstorm Sandy. The state wants more institutions to install similar systems to help prepare for future events. The Langone Medical Center at New York University, where a backup generator failed during Sandy, will have a 7.8 megawatt cogeneration online by 2016 that will keep it from losing power.
The Eastridge High School in Rochester is also rolling out a new $1.7 million gas-burning cogeneration system, which will heat and cool the school. It is expected to save $40,000 to $60,000 annually.
In the last ten years, the state has invested $100 million into cogeneration systems, which produce a total of 150 megawatts, enough to power 100,000 homes. The systems are located into dozens of apartment buildings, schools, museums and manufacturers. Co-op City in the Bronx has a 40 megawatt cogeneration system, which saves $18 million a year in energy costs, according to NYSERDA.