Wastewater Bioenergy Project Selected by Department of Energy

By Carrie W. Capuco, WE&RF.

(Alexandria, VA) - A consortium led by the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) has been selected by the Department of Energy for award negotiations to begin Phase 1 design and planning for a pilot plant to produce clean hydrocarbon fuels at a municipal wastewater treatment facility. The project will use breakthrough technology to produce fuels such as gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and renewable natural gas from wastewater solids. 

The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, near Oakland, California, will host the pilot system. The consortium includes WE&RF representing many of the 16,000 wastewater systems in the USA, Genifuel Corporation with technology from DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Merrick & Company, Southern California Gas Company, Tesoro Corporation, Metro Vancouver, MicroBio Engineering, Brown and Caldwell, and over a dozen utility partners.

The technology, called Hydrothermal Processing, converts waste solids from a wastewater treatment plant into biocrude oil and methane gas in less than one hour. The biocrude oil replaces fossil oil, providing green fuels with nearly zero net new carbon emissions. The methane gas can be used in the same ways as fossil natural gas. Biocrude oil produced in the system will be refined in an existing refinery, while the methane gas will be sold for transport in the gas pipeline system or used at the pilot plant to offset power needs elsewhere in the plant. If fully implemented in wastewater treatment operations across the U.S., the technology will produce more than two billion gallons of gasoline equivalent per year. The system also produces fertilizer byproducts.