In Praise of Poop 3: San Antonio Harnesses Power from Sewage Methane

For this the third entry in the annals of excellent excrement (after cow and E. coli poop), we will have to travel deep down into the heart of Texas…and then even farther down into the sewers of San Antonio. So don your rubber body suit, gas mask, and sense of humor, for sewage is no longer just stuff to be dumped and forgotten.

No, San Antonio is out to prove that sewage, and specifically the methane that it gives off oh so (i.e., too) naturally without any bother or cost to us, can be used as a source of alternative fuel…I mean it is natural gas, after all.

In an Associated Press story reported by CNN on its website on September 11, the San Antonio Water System plans to capture methane gas produced by the 140,000 tons of sewage it handles (sorry…bad word choice there) every year.1 Officials estimate that they will be able to capture as much as 900,000 cubic feet of methane annually from this big old pile of people poop.

But what do you do with nearly a million tons of methane? If you are a high school kid, you might get a matchbook and invite some friends with a camera for a rip-roaring laugh. If you are more mature and entrepreneurial officials in San Antonio, however, you sell that happy-crappy gas to Ameresco Inc., an energy-services company based in Massachusetts, for use as a fuel source.

San Antonio officials are as happy as poo-pie, of course, since they foresee profits approaching $250,000 a year for the methane they sell–in addition to the money they already make from selling treated water and compost made from converted bio-solids.

They are also happy to be helping the Earth, twice over, by capturing the methane for use as fuel and then making it available for use. As Steve Clouse, the SAWS chief operating officer, puts it, “We’re very pleased that we can capture and sell this gas, which is good for San Antonio’s air quality and puts this renewable energy resource to work for San Antonio.”

Renewable energy resource indeed. I wonder if the SAWS folks will be sponsoring any major city-wide eat-offs or food festivals soon? (If they did, perhaps everyone would attend wearing one of CNN’s headline T-shirts to proclaim the newly discovered power of people poo.) Or will people be even more prone to fight over the bathroom now and contribute to the city’s welfare?

Either way, you can bet that every time a toilet flushes in San Antonio, city officials and other residents may well hear the sound of jingling change and ringing cash registers. And so, sitting or standing or dancing with joy like a little kid trying to hold it all in, they will surely laugh all the way to the bank, even if methane is not that kind of gas.

Image credit: Bartux at Wikimedia Commons.
1. “City aims to make money from poo power.” CNN.com. 11 September 2008. Cable News Network-Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 12 September 2008 <http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/09/11/sewage.energy.ap/index.html?iref=newssearch>.

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