Water system resells methane from sewage

San Antonio, Texas San Antonio Water System's Board of Trustees has approved an innovative contract that makes the utility the first in the nation to capture and sell methane generated while treating the city's sewage. The gas is generated by biosolids during the sewage treatment process. Eighty percent of biosolids the organic matter remaining after liquid waste is removed are used to generate compost.

San Antonio, Texas — San Antonio Water System's Board of Trustees has approved an innovative contract that makes the utility the first in the nation to capture and sell methane generated while treating the city's sewage.

The gas is generated by biosolids during the sewage treatment process. Eighty percent of biosolids — the organic matter remaining after liquid waste is removed — are used to generate compost. With the new contract, sewage treated at Dos Rios Water Recycling Center will now be used to generate environmentally friendly products, such as recycled water, which improves river quality and is used in place of potable water by industry and manufacturers, and compost, which is used to improve soil quality, and now energy.

“The citizens of San Antonio produce about 140,000 tons of biosolids each year,” said SAWS Chief Operating Officer Steve Clouse. “Treating these biosolids generates an average of 1.5 million cubic feet of gas a day — that's enough gas to fill seven commercial blimps or 1,250 tanker trucks each day.

“Most of that gas is currently burned off using flares,” Clouse continued. “We have been working hard over the last few years to develop a process to improve the consistent quality and quantity of gas produced. Now we're very pleased that we can capture and sell it, which is good for San Antonio's air quality and puts this renewable energy resource to work for San Antonio.”

The project includes a 20-year lease and operating agreement between SAWS and Ameresco. Ameresco is an energy service firm with experience in demand-side management, energy savings performance contracts, cogeneration facilities, renewable energy sources, energy procurement, risk management, billing services, power plant development, financing, construction and operations. Ameresco will construct the gas conditioning and distribution facility and the pipelines necessary to transfer the gas to commercial gas pipelines. The firm will also be in charge of selling the gas on the open market. In return, SAWS will receive a 12% royalty on the sale of the gas — which helps reduce the cost of water system operations and, in turn, for ratepayers.

“Due to the increases we are experiencing in the price of energy, this project is now a very smart investment for the environment and regional community,” said Clouse. “Early estimates put the revenue at about $200,000 to $250,000 a year. SAWS will be the only large wastewater utility actively selling biogas in the United States.”