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EMB Group Instrumental in Water Department Move to Renewable Energy Generation

Dr. Metin Duran
Dr. Metin Duran, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Director of the Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology Laboratory.

The results of work conducted by the Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology (EMB) research group on behalf of the Philadelphia Water Department over the last five years have played a key role in the utility company’s ability to commission the design and construction of a new biogas-burning cogeneration plant to produce renewable energy for the region, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The EMB group, led by Dr. Metin Duran, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has a longstanding collaborative research relationship with the water department focused on developing technologies that convert wastewater byproducts into renewable energy. The utility’s decision to move forward with the $47.5 million facility was based, in part, on the results of several research projects conducted in the EMB Laboratory.

With a budget of more than $225,000, the members of the EMB Laboratory have optimized the existing anaerobic digestion process at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant; investigated the co-digestion of aircraft deicing fluid runoff from the Philadelphia International Airport; and showed feasibility for converting fats, oils, and grease (FOG), a byproduct of wastewater treatment that is commonly referred to as 'scum,' into methane gas. They have also improved the water department’s common biosolids digestion process by using FOG and airport runoff as additional feedstock to naturally occurring methanogenic microbes capable of digesting organic matter methane gas.

The Philadelphia Water Department's new co-generation plant will convert the methane resulting from the anaerobic microbial digestion process into electricity on a mass scale, capable of generating 5.6 megawatts of electricity and thermal energy that the utility can re-use at its Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, "the water department estimates the project will save $12 million in energy costs" over 16 years. It will also keep additional tons of biosolids and FOG out of landfills, which will not only improve the local environment but also save the city money by reducing the costs associated with its disposal.