EDI Construction Management Field Office
By 1995 Mr. Miller had spent some twenty years managing the construction of waste treatment and power generating plants. By living on the jobs 24/5 he had made use of the opportunities to study the various processes common in the industry, observe the shortcomings of these processes, and perform research into possible and economically feasible alternate solutions.
Identifying hundreds of approaches to solving the problem of converting waste to energy in the most efficient and environmentally pure manner soon focused his attention to the bacterial digestive processes. This is not surprising considering the fact that it is the bacterial process that nature has used for thousands of years to break down human, animal, and vegetation waste products into fertilizers, carbon dioxide, and natural gas. Nature's processes were purposefully slow, methodical, and balanced to perpetuate the life cycle of plants and animals and finally humans in an orderly manner.
EDI Design-Build Construction Field Office
Prior to the proliferation of the human species, these natural bacterial processes took place slowly and at the earths ambient temperatures, with the exception of rather deeply buried anaerobic (airless or oxygen free) processes, heated by the earth's core or near the surface in hot springs where much different results occur. Scientists have classified the bacteria strains that live and perform this break down or digestive action at the lower ambient temperatures as psychrophillic but more commonly referred to as composting.
In the last several centuries man has discovered that there is a species of bacteria that work faster than psychrophillic bacteria, are adapted to the temperature of the human body and are in fact of the same species we find in our own gastro intestinal systems (±35oC). Scientists have labeled the bacteria that live in this temperature range, "mesophillic". At the turn of the twentieth century nearly all wastewater treatment plants employed mesophillic anaerobic bacteria digesters in their treatment processes.
There is however a species of bacteria that operates at a mean temperature of 55oC is much faster than mesophillic bacteria and has been labeled thermophillic.
Scientists have further divided bacteria into two general classes: Anaerobic and Aerobic. Aerobic bacterial processes use oxygen (air) to grow, reproduce and breakdown biosolids. That is, they use up oxygen and return carbon dioxide and ammonia, both greenhouse gasses, to the atmosphere. These processes are relatively fast, easy to design, but in spite of the many innovations that have been developed to implement their action they are environmentally unfriendly, energy intensive and terribly inefficient. They are generally referred to in the wastewater industry as activated sludge processes.
Anaerobic bacterial processes, on the other hand, operate in an enclosed, oxygen free environment. They are environmentally friendly; generate methane (65%) and carbon dioxide (35%) in an enclosed container, thus offering the opportunity to utilize these major products most efficiently.
Aerobic processes cost money, that is they use energy; anaerobic processes make money, that is, they create energy. Virtually all the new development and the greatest portion of capital expenditures in the last thirty years of the nineteenth century have gone into aerobic processes. During that period energy costs for aerobic processes rose from 10 to between 60 to 70 percent of the energy costs in the average wastewater plant. If all of those millions of development dollars and capital expenditures had gone into developing anaerobic processes WWTPs would today be self-powered and would be selling natural gas (methane) or converting it themselves and selling electrical power it is capable of producing, to the national electrical grid.
Miller is an anaerobist1 his studies have convinced him that anaerobists are absolutely right. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how much energy would be produced by the complete reduction of the volatile suspended solids (biosolids) in a plants input by an anaerobic process. Making such a calculation on a 40 MGD (million gallon per day) plant some 30 years ago even just using sludge derived from primary and secondary clarifiers and the outmoded but most highly energy and operationally cost effective aerobic process ever developed, trickling filters, the electric meter spun slightly backward.
If a properly designed and efficiently operated trickling filter aerobic/anaerobic plant can break even on its power costs a fully anaerobic plant can be a profit maker, and it is.
So, why don’t we go fully anaerobic, you ask? What is holding us back? What is the problem? Well, like the Coors add says, “It’s the Water!” The high ratio of water to biosolids in our WWTP influent streams makes it totally impractical to treat all of our wastewater anaerobicly using our current waste disposal system. Miller designed the process that solves all of that.
That defined the problem: There is too much water.
Today the solids that readily settle to the bottom or float to the top of a clarifier are sent to a digester as sludge (93% water) and treated anaerobicly the remaining waste (99.9% water) is treated aerobically. Aerobic treatment is easy, it does the job, and all that is required is energy, lots of energy.
The solution to “too much water” leads us in two obvious directions. We can either get rid of the excess water and/or add more biosolids.
Our Company has recently unveiled a revolutionary new energy efficient and cost effective process that is environmentally friendly, creates clean power and pure water from the anaerobic process. It will save the California taxpayer $1.5Trillion per year and is net energy productive in biosolid concentrations greater than one percent. The process called VRAD©, for Vacuum Retort Anaerobic Digestion2, it is a giant step in the direction of getting rid of the water. However, we believe that even greater rewards are in the latter direction, that is, the addition of biosolids.
Up until the turn of this century garbage and trash either were burned for energy or were dumped into a landfill. Burning trash and garbage is very inefficient. Have you ever tried to burn a rotten orange or grapefruit? A large percentage of the heat that is generated in these plants is used to just dry out the remainder of the garbage so that it can be burned. Moreover, the term landfill is a complete misnomer. You don't end up with land; you end up with a valley full of slowly decaying biosolids. This "land" not only slowly shrinks away over the next fifty to one hundred years, cannot support construction of houses or buildings, is unstable and gives off the dangerous greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide and methane, while it shrinks. Promoters and politicians who like to kid themselves and the public go for the idea of covering these landfills with plastics and catching the methane for use as energy. This gas recovery system is so slow and so inefficient (10%) that the energy recovered never pays back the capital investment let alone the operating costs.
MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) operators now understand that the anaerobic digestion of solid waste is a much more efficient way to go compared to burning. There are several hundred such plants now spread out around the globe. They do not enjoy the advantages of a VRAD© process, releasing greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, produce energy inefficiently, and require four to five times the land area of a VRAD© plant.
Miller says, “I am convinced that anaerobics are the answer to the treatment of all liquid or liquefiable waste. In fact, I am so totally convinced that I find myself telling people that if I owned and operated a WWTP the first thing that I would do would be to give every one of my customers a garbage disposal. I would have garbage collection cancelled. I would tell all the hog, chicken and dairy farmers to put all their manure in a hopper and I would have a truck pick it up as fast as they could fill it. I would encourage canneries and food processors of all types into my community. Every section of the community would have a grinding and emulsifying station at its sewer arterial where large bones, cardboard, grass, tree, and hedge trimmings would be ground and emulsified. I would convert my plant to a 100% anaerobic operation. And I would make money, lots of money.”
Today, the technological wherewithal exists to turn our wastewater treatment plants and our municipal solid waste plants into profit centers. These two plants can be combined into one plant and enjoy not only the economies of scale but the synergism of too much water in the WWTP side of the equation and the need for additional water in the MSW to create the liquor required for anaerobic digestion. They can sell energy either as natural gas (methane) or electricity into the grid. They can produce drinking water. And, they can sell wonderful dry humus that can be used in many applications.
VRAD© is the perfect process for CHP (combined heat and power) generation. It will make our cities into distributed energy centers for the national electrical grid, thus greatly reducing the terrorism threats to which large central power plants are so vulnerable.
Domestic wastewater treatment operators have always known that all of these other biosolids could be converted anaerobicly. But it was not “their” problem, they had their snug little operational empires and the people downtown didn't dare mess with them. City managers did not know how to combine liquid and solid waste. In fact industries that added biosolids of another type to the domestic system knew that it was “their” problem. Why? There are too basic reasons. First, wastewater treatment has never been looked at in terms of energy or profit. Second, anaerobic digester operations have in general always had a bad name. Working with the highly acidic raw digester gas (1% hydrogen sulfide + water vapor = hydro sulfuric acid) and the destruction it causes has been a travesty.
In 1999 Environmental Developers Incorporated solved the problem of digester gas acidity with its “Digester Gas System and Process2.”
Progress in anaerobics begged for applied research in several directions. EDI took on that challenge. In addition, there was a myriad of patented and public ideas that muddied the waters with systems that were totally impractical either could never be built or would not operate if they were built.
EDI has been looking ahead. The application of this research has floundered waiting for the about face that has now occurred. There is now a general understanding that anaerobic systems are the way to go and as soon as one city or county moves to combine its liquid and solid waste there will be no turning back. The VRAD© process is uniquely designed to meet that challenge.
On May 18, 2010 EDI announced the patenting of their latest process, SBBC© (Solids Based Bacterial Colonization), see News Release this date, a process that overcomes the last roadblock to the full and complete anaerobic treatment of Municipal Wastewater.
It is now time for public administrators to get on board and do their long range planning. The current argument over privatization will not solve the problem it merely attacks a symptom of the problem. Treating the symptom may have and indeed has, in some cases, had a positive effect. It will fail in the long term. Why, because it’s very structure denies it the possibility to turn wastewater and municipal solid waste processing into profitable energy centers.
EDI WWTP Field Operations Management
Miller says, “I firmly believe that industrialization is the only real long-term answer to the waste problem. In fact, in a talk before the Electric Power Research Institute in Minneapolis, I challenged these utilities to consider buying up MSW and WWTPs, converting them to profit centers, and making them an integral part of their grid”.
We are only a hop, skip, and a jump from all of this. It isn’t going to happen tomorrow its happening now. And when we all completely understand the promise, the ship will be on course. By tacking port and starboard against the winds of doubt and ignorance we will make port and capture the prize. A 1980‘s study of the available biosolid sources listed herein indicates that current practice wastes the equivalent of well over two billion barrels of oil annually in the United States alone. EDI's objective is to constantly monitor the new discoveries in bio-scientific technology and by the application of applicable discoveries develop and improve upon the fast, clean, compact processes it offers keeping them always the leaders in the industry that they are today.
EDI has the answers, whether you need a MSW or a WWTP or any combination of the two, or whether you have a 5000+ head dairy or a 5000+ hog or cattle operation, we are ready to help you. Call us today and get started in the right direction at the right time. You owe it to yourself to invest in a plant that will last for fifty years and is only limited in its ability to make you money by the volume of biosolids you feed it.
1 An anaerobist is a person that believes that natural anaerobic process are the answer to: the elimination of land fills, toxic waste dumps, and sludge beds; the high speed conversion of wastes to energy; the sequestration of carbon dioxide; and the production of many important products and byproducts yet to be discovered.
2 US Patent No.s 6,291,232; 6,632,362; 6,790,359; 6,942,798; 7,718,068; other US & Foreign Patents Pending