Why We Can’t Let Wastewater Go To Waste

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Why We Can’t Let Wastewater Go To Waste

“Out of sight, out of mind.” Such is the case for most of us when we flush a toilet. We’re unlikely to give the process another thought until something goes wrong – be it a clog or leak. But what if we could challenge ourselves to think about the waste cycle before a problem arises?


Our behaviours and actions of today affect not only ourselves, but also future generations. This, in turn, is a powerful motivator for us to understand the implications of our waste, to adopt environmentally sensitive practices, and to insist on change from an individual to a city-wide level.


Logically, with this movement comes increasing demands for sustainable systems and infrastructure to support the public in their efforts to live “greener” (i.e. if communities are going to start sorting their garbage for recycling, then there should be a grand plan for those recycled goods). This is where, in Ottawa, a business like Envari Energy Solutions is able to come in to connect the dots between institutional efforts and community / systematic efforts – all with the goal to support the wellness of our planet.


To partner on this grand plan, the City of Ottawa and Envari have established a master services agreement for initiatives related to reducing energy costs, greenhouse gas emissions and overall energy consumption. As such, the City is looking to Envari for an upcoming project to replace the “cogeneration” engines and upgrade the electrical and heating infrastructure at the Robert O. Pickard Environmental Centre (ROPEC) – a municipal waste water treatment plant in Ottawa’s east end.


Currently, ROPEC houses three 22 year-old biogas engines that convert 70 per cent of the methane produced during the treatment process into energy to power a large part of the facility. How does this all work, you ask? Simply put, the sewage plant uses anaerobic digesters to break down organic waste (i.e. what you flush down the toilet). During this process, a great deal of methane-rich biogas is produced. The sewage plant leverages this methane to fuel cogeneration engines that then produce electricity for the facility.


With all the technological advances that have occurred over the years, there’s significant room for improvement to the existing system at ROPEC. The City would like to upgrade the equipment to capture the remaining 30 per cent of biogas being flared off by replacing the existing engines with larger ones – specifically 1,000 kilowatt biogas cogeneration engines – and by adding a fourth.


With these upgrades come several environmental and cost benefits. It is forecasted that the new cogeneration project will save nearly $80 million in utility expenses over 25 years and will eliminate 1,565 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. The additional power generated will also allow the waste water process to become entirely energy independent, with the ability to operate off-grid, so that its operations will be uninterrupted during power outages. This self-sufficiency during outages is a critical sustainable component as it decreases the chances of river contamination.


Waste-to-energy systems are not yet commonplace, but as demands increase for environmental sensitivity and climate resiliency, we are seeing more countries, like United States, China and Norway, adopt this technology. However, since waste management is often dealt with on a local-level, it is municipalities that we need to look to for driving innovation and adopting these systems.


Thankfully, the next time you’re wondering what happens after you flush the toilet, you can rest assured that the City of Ottawa and Envari are making efforts to make sure your waste doesn’t go to waste – increasing energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions, and keeping rivers clean! Together we are making efforts towards a more sustainable future, one flush at a time


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