Austin Using Green Innovation to Beat the Utility Blues

January 25, 2012

Sewage treatment has always been a dirty business, dating back to the frontier days when "waste management" meant the guy who followed after the horses with a bucket and shovel. However, thanks to modern technology, there are ways to turn some of the treatment processes into clean energy that can power public infrastructure facilities.

The Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant in Austin, Texas, located on 1,200 acres of land along the Colorado River, is a national model for innovative approaches to improve the environment, such as reducing waste, producing compost, and protecting ecosystems. Each year, thousands of tons of biosolids, the nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the treatment of sewage sludge, are anaerobically digested and composted with Austin's yard trimmings into an EPA-certified soil conditioner called "Dillo Dirt" (as in armadillo). This popular product is sold to commercial vendors for sale and use in public landscaping projects across the city. Demand for "Dillo Dirt" often exceeds available supply.

During the 1980s, an initial effort to improve energy efficiency at the plant started when two 400-kW converted diesel generators were installed. The generators were fueled by a mixture of digester biogas from the site and diesel fuel. This worked fairly well, but after 20+ years the old generators are no longer serviceable or repairable, and in recent years the gas has had to be flared. Austin decided to use $1.2 million of its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to replace the old equipment with modern "biogas-rated" generation equipment. Read the full story on DOE's Energy Blog.