Would you believe that a bug’s fart can produce renewable energy?

The energy transition is definitely fascinating in finding out interesting innovations. Bob Makin from the Bridgewater Courier News writes on the My Central Jersey website about an innovation in New Jersey that you should find quite interesting.

 

Bug farts help create renewable energy in Central Jersey

Would you believe that a bug’s fart can help save energy?

It’s true! And in the case of the 85 percent power generated by the methane gas captured from micro-organisms at the Joint Meeting of Union and Essex Counties wastewater treatment plant in Elizabeth, part of the “food” the bugs digest is collected from grease traps at Rutgers University.

Known as FOG (fats, oils and grease), the byproduct is collected by Russell Reid, an industrial waste management company in the Keasbey section of Woodbridge, carted from university dining halls, offloaded at the treatment plant, and served to millions microscopic critters.

The process has large environmental and economic impacts, representatives of Russell Reid and Joint Meeting said.

“In a big industrial kitchen, Rutgers is serving thousands of meals for the university,” said Devin Dam, a Russell Reid sales manager. “All of the food prep, the cleaning of plates and dishes, comes through their sinks, makes their way into a trap. In the wash water that comes out is fats, oils and grease, things that you don’t want to get into your sewer because when that makes its way into your sewer, you end up clogging up sewer pipes, much like an artery would. You choke off the flow and you get sewer backups … The food waste sinks to the bottom of the trap, the fat and the oil floats to the top, and the relatively clean water makes it way out to the sewer, so we’re removing the separated grease and food waste that settled in the trap and didn’t make its way out to the sewer.”

For 10 years, Russell Reid has collected FOG at Rutgers and about 1,000 other locations throughout North and Central Jersey and brought the messy goop either to Joint Meeting or a Pennsylvania-based wastewater treatment plant. They too feed the waste to bugs and generate renewable energy from their methane, which also is produced from their feasting on waster water sludge.

In Elizabeth, that gas is captured by digesters that feed into a filtering system that converts the raw methane into reusable natural gas, as well as electricity that is sent to a power distribution operation connected to nearby power lines. The fuel powers the plant’s three 800-kilowatt generators, creating up to 3.2 megawatts of electricity.

The resulting 85-percent energy savings of $2 million annually are passed onto more than a half-million tax payers in the 11 North Jersey municipalities that the Joint Meetings serves, Assistant Superintendent Frances J. Bonaccorso.

“This savings is transferred back to the user by maintaining a stable cost, so that dramatic increases in user fees and equivalent dwelling units is not seen by the residents in our 11 towns and municipalities that are members of the Joint Meeting of Union & Essex Counties,” Bonaccorso said. “We also utilize the energy that’s stored in that fats, oils and grease. As it’s broken down, it’s converted into gas as a fuel. This helps in our environmental impact because the fuel source — the bio gas that’s generated — is used in a lean-burning system resulting in a lower carbon footprint, lower CO2 emissions, lower sulfur and nitrogen emissions into the atmosphere.”

During Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the plant remained operational, drawing power from its onsite generators, Russell Reid said in a statement.

Not only is the process helping reduce fossil fuel consumption, but it also is an economic engine that creates jobs for Russell Reid and other companies like it, the waste management company said.

“In the month of October, we disposed of 215,000 gallons of grease at Joint Meeting,” Dam said. “The grease comes from the surrounding counties: Essex, Somerset, Middlesex, Union, Morris and Hudson. We performed 350 services in those counties in October.”

In business since 1943 and merged with Mr. John portable sanitation since 1964, Russell Reid also services cesspool and other kinds of commercial waste. With offices also in Glen Gardner, the company performs more than 20,000 grease trap services annually, making them the largest waste removal company in the state, Dam said.

Joint Meeting was founded in 1898, began operation in 1904, and expanded several times with more operations since in the 1970s, including the construction of a power plant in 2009 that now largely is fueled via bio gas.

“We’re engaged in a public-private partnership to utilize the facility that they have — the excess capacity — and our need to get rid of customers’ waste for a mutual benefit,” Dam said. “We take it to someone who’s willing to accept and get rid of it responsibly, and they get the benefit of burning and generating power to run their operations. We bring them about 30,000 gallons of grease a day. We bring them most grease.”

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