Money to Burn: How to Capitalize on BioCNG at Your Wastewater Plant


Across the globe, units of government are struggling with the balance of deriving clean energy with economics and environmental protection. This struggle has led to the development of many renewable energy innovations and inventions, such as rapid improvement in the cost and efficiencies of photovoltaic solar (PV) systems and the development of large off-shore wind turbine systems. The challenges imposed on energy utilities associated with managing grid variability leads emphasis on the development of ‘baseload’ alternative energy systems, like bioenergy systems. We should recognize, however, that we have a bounty of organic wastes generated by society each day, and systems that are able to recycle these organic resources into energy are capable of more consistent energy generation, as compared to the intermittency of solar and wind. In this regard, such bioenergy systems hold promise for balancing our energy needs.

Waste to worth mtb figure 1.What did we do?  

Bioenergy systems based on the utilization of organic wastes, such as municipal wastes, food wastes, and crop residues provide the additional benefits of supporting improved pollution prevention and waste treatment systems.

Of the organic wastes available for us in bioenergy systems, one may be directly correlated to the increasing energy needs and clean energy desires of the global population – waste organics associated with municipal wastewater treatment. Municipal wastewater treatment strategies vary by geography, climate, and level of development across our globe. However, in all cases, opportunities exist to utilize these waste as feedstocks for the creation of biogas that may be used to fuel electricity generators, farm implements, and the transportation needs of our population.

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What have we learned?  

Many municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) across the U.S. already utilize anaerobic digestion as a primary treatment process to reduce sludge or reduce organic loading, expressed as Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), to subsequent aerobic treatment processes. However, most of these facilities presently flare the biogas that is produced from the digestion process. Most often, these managers report the following reason for lack of implementation of energy harvesting. WHAT REASON???

We continue to seek clean, renewable energy sources across the globe to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels for improved air quality and economic stability. While solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources play a vital role in a diversified energy strategy, the development of bioenergy systems that continuously operate in ‘base load’ fashion is very important for grid stability. Additionally, unlike solar and wind, bioenergy systems that convert organic wastes into fuels have opportunities to positively impact transportation fuel needs. The development of systems that harvest biogas from anaerobic digesters employed at municipal wastewater plants can serve to fill a portion of this need, and create improved revenues for the wastewater treatment utility. Often, anaerobic digesters serving municipal wastewater treatment plants are operating well under their optimum capacity, creating opportunities for municipalities to engage in partnerships with private sector waste generators, such as food and beverage processors, restaurants, and farmers.

Many commercial fleets are converting to natural gas fuel to realize the cost savings and participate in programs that reward cleaner air quality through reduced emissions. Each commercial waste truck that is converted to natural gas from diesel has a comparable impact to removing 325 cars from the road. Currently the costs of natural gas-fueled vehicles are slightly higher (10-15%) than conventionally-fueled vehicles. However, as the costs of fossil fuels rise, and more CNG vehicles are manufactured, the costs are likely to become very similar.


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Table 1.

Table 2.Future Plans    

Unlike fossil fuels, which are finite in quantity, bioenergy and biogas systems convert the organic wastes that are generated each day into fuel; often in only a few days’ time. In this regard, bioenergy systems offer a truly infinite resource for renewable energy, while providing the added benefit of pollution reduction and additional revenues to support existing wastewater treatment infrastructure systems.


Gus Simmons, Director of Bioenergy, Cavanaugh & Associates, P.A.

Additional information



Clean Water Needs Survey, 2008

Loyd Ray Farms, Yadkinville, NC

Duke University Carbon Offsets Initiative

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