When life gives you poop, make electricity.
Washington, D.C., Water is the first utility in North America to adopt a type of thermal hydrolysis system from Norway that converts byproducts from sewage treatment plants into electricity. On Oct. 7, the utility, which treats sewage in Maryland and North Virginia suburbs, unveiled a conversion system expected to save about $24 million annually.
“It’s a huge deal on so many fronts,” D.C. Water General Manager George S. Hawkins told The Washington Post. “It’s a public utility leading the world in innovation and technology. We have private and public water companies coming from all over the world to see this.”
Many treatment plants around the U.S. recycle byproduct, but D.C. Water's system is special because it uses a pressure cooker-like technology that saves space and enables the system to be installed in tight urban environments.
The system began saving the utility big moolah when it fired up in September. D.C. Water predicts savings of $2 million on treatment chemicals, $11 million in trucking expenses and $10 million from the power to be generated, an estimated one-third of the 157-acre plant's power.
Compost created from the system could show up at home improvement stores in the next year, officials said.
The system cost $470 million and took four years to build.
Water treatment plants like those run by D.C. Water account for about 4 percent of the nation's energy usage, and science like this — which D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton called "magic" — are the kinds of advances that could help the U.S. lose its status as one of the leading consumers of fossil energy.