Rather than signal the last stop on its journey back into the environment, the wastewater treatment process might be the first step toward a second life as a renewable energy source. Dr. Metin Duran, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology (EMB) research group have secured a $40,000 grant from the Philadelphia Water Department to investigate the conversion of fats, oils, and grease (FOG) present in wastewater into methane gas.
For the past five years, the group has worked with the Philadelphia Water Department to develop technologies that convert wastewater byproducts into renewable energy. For this research study, the group will explore anaerobic co-digestion of FOG, commonly referred to as ‘scum,’ which accumulates during wastewater treatment and is typically sent to landfills.
“FOG contains significant amounts of lipids, which makes it a potential source of renewable energy,” says Dr. Duran. “Anaerobic co-digestion of FOG seems the most efficient and economically feasible way to convert it into a renewable energy source.”
To achieve this conversion, the group will combine FOG and naturally occurring microbes that are capable of digesting it into an engineered system designed to optimize the digestion and conversion process. The result of this process is methane gas.
“At the municipal level, it costs about $50 per ton simply to send this FOG to the landfill,” says Dr. Duran. “Converting it to an energy source not only saves money, but it’s also better for the environment. This project also fits well into Philadelphia’s sustainability initiative, as the city has plans to build a co-generation plant to convert methane into electricity.”