Sewage is usually viewed as an environmental hazard, not an asset. The question NYC faces is where all that waste should go that it won't cause odor and even water contamination.
The answer? New York City is now looking at its sewage treatment plants as possible sources of renewable energy.
From the New York Times:
For the city's Department of Environmental Protection, which is to issue its strategy on Wednesday, it is a shift. Until now, the agency has mainly played the role of water utility and environmental steward rather than energy producer.
But like other cities around the country looking to reduce both the costs of sewage treatment and disposal and the heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted in the process, New York is beginning to look at its waste as an untapped resource.
Heating fuel can be extracted from sludge, and sewage treatment plants could sell methane gas that can power homes.
The DEP is looking to recoup some of the costs of dealing with wastewater, which currently costs the city more than $400 million a year.
Caswell Holloway, the city's commissioner of environmental protection, said harvesting sewage is a viable option.
"There's nothing in here that's pie in the sky,"Holloway said. "While we're early in the process, it's real."
Methane gas from sewage treatment plants is the biggest potential cash cow. Already, 20 percent of the power used by the city's 14 sewage plants comes from the sewage they house.
The DEP wants to harvest more of that energy to sell to companies like National Grid.
Eric Goldstein, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York said it makes sense to make the most out of the 1,200 tons of sludge the city produces daily.
"If what you've got is lemons, of course you try to make lemonade," Goldstein said. "It's taking existing infrastructure and outfitting it to help solve other city problems."