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SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) will become the first utility in the United States to capture and sell methane generated by biosolids during the sewage treatment process. Eighty percent of biosolids are used to generate compost. Sewage treated at SAWS’s Dos Rios Water Recycling Center will be used to generate environmentally friendly products, such as recycled water, which improves river quality and is used in place of potable water by industry and manufacturers; compost, which is used to improve soil quality; and now energy.

"The citizens of San Antonio produce about 140,000 tons of biosolids each year," said SAWS Chief Operating Officer Steve Clouse. "Treating these biosolids generates an average of 1.5 million cubic feet of gas a day—that"s enough gas to fill seven commercial blimps or 1,250 tanker trucks each day.

"Most of that gas is currently burned off using flares," he said. "We have been working hard over the last few years to develop a process to improve the consistent quality and quantity of gas produced. Now we’re very pleased that we can capture and sell it, which is good for San Antonio’s air quality and puts this renewable energy resource to work for San Antonio."

The project includes a 20-year lease and operating agreement between SAWS and Ameresco. Ameresco will construct the gas conditioning and distribution facility and the pipelines necessary to transfer the gas to commercial gas pipelines. It will also be in charge of selling the gas on the open market. In return, SAWS will receive a 12-percent royalty on the sale of the gas—which helps reduce the cost of SAWS’s operations.

"Due to the increases we are experiencing in the price of energy, this project is now a very smart investment for the environment and regional community," said Clouse. "Early estimates put the revenue at about $200,000 to $250,000 a year. SAWS will be the only large wastewater utility actively selling biogas in the United States."