Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's deputy web editor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In February 2011, the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research program awarded one Bay Area sanitation district almost $1 million to see if it could develop and implement a method for converting poop, and everything else that falls under the term “biosolid,” into electricity. Currently, biosolids (which often consist of heavy metals and toxic chemicals) can be used as fertilizer, or they are hauled long distances to sit in landfills, increasing transportation costs for the plant while spewing greenhouse gases into the air. But biosolids also contain latent energy that when the liquids are vaporized and the solids turned into gas (a process known as steam/carbon dioxide reforming technology), the eventual result is a hydrogen-rich gas that will for the first time be used to generate electricity, according to a press release. If it works, wastewater treatment plants may have found a better use of the 661,000 dry metric tons of biosolids that Californians produced in 2009.