A million flushes can generate some serious power

I’m more and more appreciating the potential role that biogas production will play as our economy moves away from fossil fuels. I have a story today on Toronto Hydro’s efforts to build a 10-megawatt generation facility in the city’s east end that would burn biogas pumped in from a neighbouring wastewater treatment facility. In return, the byproduct thermal energy from the generation process will be sent back to the treatment facility, which relies on heat for a variety of applications. This kind of co-generation setup makes oodles of sense and can — and should — be replicated across other municipalities. The Ashbridge’s Bay treatment facility in Toronto’s east end is ideal because of its size. As the largest facility of its kind in the country, it treats the wastewater that’s flushed from 1.3 million residents.

The opportunities to tap energy from decaying biomass are seemingly endless. Cavendish Farms, a maker of potato products in Prince Edward Island, recently announced the commissioning of a facility that turns potato waste into biogas, which is then used in the boilers of the potato processing plant. The company points out that not only is biogas displacing the use of oil, but oil no longer needs to be trucked into the plant, nor are trucks required to haul away the potato waste to a landfill. The on-site anaerobic digester that produces the biogas also produces a byproduct that can be used as a natural, organic fertilizer on the fields that grow the potatos. A true win-win-win. The company expects to reduce its carbon footprint by 30 to 35 per cent.

Toronto Hydro, meanwhile, has a bunch of other biogas projects in the hopper, including one landfill gas project and two projects that will involve the capture of biogas from the city’s green-bin waste (i.e. household organics). The utility is also in early talks with the Toronto Zoo about a project that would covert the dung from elephants, giraffes and other animals into biogas. As for the Ashbridge’s Bay project, it’s expected to get the final rubber stamp from city council next month, with construction beginning in the fall and full operation planned for the end of 2010.

There are hundreds of these projects just waiting to be developed across the province, and thousands across the continents. They represent the true spirit of decentralized energy production. And, while we don’t talk about this as much, they help solve a growing waste management problem.

2 thoughts on “A million flushes can generate some serious power”

  1. Check related information in Feb 2009 Popular Mechanics article “manure to energy”. Take note of this farms quick financial success. Toronto in this case, maybe Ontario needs to make the capital money available. Become the municipal biomass innovator, sell the knowledge to other municipalities. Along with surpluss energy. I hope a biogass project is started at the zoo – huge farm.

  2. Hopefully these initiatives will get even more widespread regognition and application as they get better appreciated for their merits. Making energy from our refuse and biological wastes has long been an under exploited especially in the more affluent societies. These energy resources have existed for centuries. The growing acceptance of the causes of global warming, environmental pollution/health issues and the waining of fossil fuels is changing attitudes. We are on the cusp of even greater changes to help us deal with the degradation of our cheap energy resouces and failing environment. It’s encoraging to see the acceptance of our need to use these resources and I appreciate the support of government for such projects.

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