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Turning Methane into Money: Cost-Effective Methane Co-Generation Using Microturbines at a Small, Rural Wastewater Plant
Gillian Eaton, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation James L. Jutras, Village of Essex Junction, Vermont
Application of microturbines for methane-fueled combined heat and power generation represents an innovative, renewable energy technology. While methane-based co-generation has been widely implemented at large wastewater facilities, it is generally not considered to be cost- effective for smaller plants. The Village of Essex Junction, with the support of Efficiency Vermont, has successfully implemented microturbine technology at its 2.0 million gallon per day (MGD) average-flow, municipal wastewater treatment facility, and can provide firsthand information on its financial benefits. The Essex Junction facility design is 3.3 MGD with flows at 2.0 MGD. This clarification is often important to design professionals as flow growth lends conservatism to the numbers.
The Essex Junction co-generation project installed two, 30 kilowatt (kW) microturbines that combust waste methane gas to generate electricity. Waste heat from the microturbines is used to maintain 100-degree Fahrenheit temperatures for the site’s anaerobic digestion process. Total system efficiency of electricity and heat generation is greater than 80%. With nearly 100% use of its waste methane, the facility now saves approximately 450,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) (45% of annual usage) and $43,000in electricity costs per year. As a result, more than 600,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will be prevented because of this project.
The Essex Junction project is the first of its kind at a small New England wastewater facility. Similar projects could likely be implemented at 5-15% of the nation’s 16,000 publicly- owned wastewater treatment facilities. Efforts to expand methane-based co-generation at wastewater facilities would yield significant energy savings, while also supporting pollution prevention, renewable energy, and distributed generation efforts. This paper will describe the benefits of methane-fueled microturbine co-generation, provide lessons learned from the experience of a 2.0 MGD facility, and show the cost-effectiveness of this innovative technology.
The Village of Essex Junction, Efficiency Vermont, and other project partners were able to leverage each other’s technical and financial resources to complete a project that will help Essex Junction’s taxpayers for years to come. While many municipalities are struggling with maintaining infrastructure in the face of increasing costs and stable tax rates, there are innovative and effective ways to increase efficiency, conserve energy resources, and reduce operating costs. Methane-fueled microturbine co-generation provides such an opportunity at Essex Junction.
The Village of Essex Junction is a small town in northwestern Vermont with a land area of 4.6 square miles and a population of approximately 8,700 people. It is located approximately 10 miles from Burlington, Vermont, which is the State’s largest city with 38,000 people. Both Essex Junction and Burlington are in Vermont’s most populous county, Chittenden County, which is home to approximately 100,000 residents. The total population of Vermont is roughly
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