Grant opens way for Raleigh to turn waste into fuel

Anaerobic digestion waste-to-energy tanks in Fenville, Miss. Raleigh will soon have the digester that can turn waste into fuel.
Anaerobic digestion waste-to-energy tanks in Fenville, Miss. Raleigh will soon have the digester that can turn waste into fuel.

North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality has come under criticism for reduced regulations dictated by Republican legislators and some missteps such as the SolarBees that didn’t work in Jordan Lake. But the City of Raleigh is justifiably happy with DEQ thanks to the agency’s providing a $50 million low-interest loan to help build an anaerobic digester system at the Neuse River Resource Recovery Facility, a wastewater treatment plant.

These systems aren’t new – Durham has been using them for years – but basically, in the course of the wastewater treatment process, an anaerobic system will allow the city to create energy in the form of methane gas rather than spend more energy in wastewater treatment. That, in turn, will save the city money, turning it from an energy consumer to an energy producer.

“If we make money on what we’re able to harvest from the wastewater, that benefits our customers,” said T.J. Lynch, Raleigh’s assistant director of public utilities.

This $90 million project fits Raleigh, which has a good record on “green” policy. Consider that the city, trying to use biodiesel to run its considerable vehicle fleet, produced more than 1,200 gallons of biodiesel as the product of planting 27 acres of sunflowers at its wastewater treatment facility six years ago. The seeds were processed and the fuel produced.

Another part of the new project will include creating a collection center for grease. The city encourages residents and businesses to dispose of grease separately instead of pouring it into a drain where it causes clogs, but the city currently has no grease collection center.

As the Capital City, Raleigh is right to be leading the way in establishing responsible policies on energy conservation, whether that involves wastewater treatment or fuel conservation or, in the case of this project, both. These developments may seem confusing and mysterious to those not fluent in the sciences, but the results are not mysterious at all. They mean cleaner air and water, cheaper operation of the city’s vehicles and, along the way, discoveries that could result in even more advances in conservation and reuse of waste such as grease in the future.

It’s fortunate that Raleigh has enthusiastic people such as Lynch who embrace changes such as the anaerobic digester system and who even try to make it understandable to others. But people do understand more stable utility bills, and a smaller “carbon footprint,” or fewer greenhouse gas emissions, that responsible energy policy for the air and water encourages.