The city’s efforts to create fuel out of biodegradable materials just got a big boost.
North Carolina’s environmental agency on Tuesday awarded a $50 million low-interest loan to Raleigh so the city can build an anaerobic digester system at its Neuse River Resource Recovery Facility, a wastewater treatment plant.
The project, once it is finished in about five years, will transform the facility into a “large energy-generating process from a large energy-consuming process,” said T.J. Lynch, Raleigh’s assistant director of public utilities.
The city currently uses an aerobic system to create useful biosolids, a system that requires large fans and is an energy hog. The anaerobic digester creates methane gas through a much cheaper process, Lynch said.
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Raleigh may even be able to someday recoup a lot of the energy it’s burning, he said.
“If we make money on what we’re able to harvest from the wastewater, that benefits our customers,” Lynch said.
The project also aims to create a collection center for grease. Pouring grease down drains blocks sewers and causes overflows. Raleigh encourages restaurants and residents to dispose of grease in other ways, but doesn’t have a collection center.
The city’s preliminary estimates show the project will cost about $90 million, Lynch said, so the state’s contribution is substantial.
Raleigh applied for the money this spring. The city will have 20 years to repay it under virtually no interest rate, said Kim Colson, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s water infrastructure division.
“The neat thing about it is, when the loan gets repaid to us, we get to loan it back out again and again,” Colson said.
Raleigh has a history of trying new sources of biofuels.
In an attempt to fuel the city’s fleet of vehicles, Raleigh produced more than 1,200 gallons of biodiesel after planting 27 acres of sunflowers at its wastewater facility in 2010 and processing the seeds.
The state’s loan to Raleigh accounts for nearly 40 percent of the $127 million in grants and loans it directed to 70 utilities infrastructure projects on Tuesday.
Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement that the projects would enhance water quality across the state and provide a stronger foundation for growth.
“Reliable infrastructure is crucial to protecting public health, improving quality of life, and providing economic opportunities in all of our communities,” McCrory said.