CanWest: Power biz going to the sewer

via: Power biz going to the sewer, Feb. 21, 2013  CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.

United Utilities Plc and Severn Trent Plc, Britain’s biggest publicly traded water companies, are increasingly feeding human waste into tanks of bacteria whose methane emissions generate electricity.

Sewage-derived power supplies 22 per cent of Severn Trent’s energy, almost double that of 2005.

At United Utilities, it’s 14 per cent. British utilities are shifting fecal matter to vats of bacteria that consume the waste, releasing biogas that’s burned to drive water treatment.

The result is lower energy bills and surplus power sent to the grid that heat more U.K. tea kettles.

Water businesses in Britain aren’t the only ones finding value in waste. Companies in Europe and China are turning more to biogas to counter fossil-fuel costs and energy price volatility.

Microsoft Corp., the largest software maker, uses effluents to help power a data centre in Wyoming.

Skiers in northern Arizona speed down slopes on artificial snow made entirely from treated waste water.

“We live in a resource-constrained world. We’re going to have to squeeze more and more out of our waste,” said Christopher Gasson, the publisher of Global Water Intelligence in Oxford, England.

Sewage sludge “smells like money to an increasing number of entrepreneurs.”

Some investors in Europe see an opportunity in such a market.

Last year, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG heiress Susanne Klatten, Germany’s wealthiest woman, bought 20 per cent of Paques BV, a Dutch biogas technology business.

There are about 2,250 facilities in Europe now using sewage sludge to produce biogas that can generate power, according to the European Biogas Association.

Germany and Switzerland have the highest concentration with 980 and 463.

The U.K. and Sweden have at least 100 each.

Berliner Wasserbetriebe, Germany’s biggest water provider, serving 3.7 mil-lion people in and around the capital, has turned sewage sludge into power and heat for at least two decades, said Stephan Natz, a spokesman.

Last year it produced 22 per cent of the electricity the utility consumed, mainly from sewage sludge.

The company produces power and heat from sewage sludge at all six of its waste water-treatment plants, Natz said.

While Gasson estimates more than two-thirds of waste water utilities in northern Europe are investigating the technology compared with less than 10 per cent in 2008, that’s not quite the case in the U.S.

American Water Works Co., the largest U.S. publicly traded water company, has no plants that produce energy from sewage. It’s being considered and is at a very preliminary stage of discussion, the company said by email.

Sewage sludge is broken down in a process called anaerobic digestion, which is also used to convert food waste into power.

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