Pennsylvania biogas facility completes successful startup

By Chris Hanson | January 09, 2014

After holding its grand opening on Nov. 22, the Biogas Cogeneration Facility at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant in Philadelphia provided Biomass Magazine with an update on its operation and its growing interest from third parties.

The extreme cold from the arctic vortex caused an interruption in the operation of the chiller that works in conjunction with the biogas dehydration equipment, said Leonard Gipson, general manager of facility operations. Given that the facility is in the first two full weeks of continuous operation, the chiller issue is only a minor setback and will be addressed within the next few days, and the engines have operated continuously with less than 3 percent downtime for minor adjustments and auxiliary equipment issues, he adds.

Even with the chiller interruption, contingency plans are working, Gipson said. If the facility was unable to fully utilize the biogas due to a pretreatment problem, such as a down chiller, the biogas is able to be rerouted to the plant’s boiler to generate heat for the digestion process and connected buildings. If biogas is not available, the facility can utilize natural gas, he added.

Since the opening, the facility has also stirred interest in several sectors, said Paul Kohl, energy program manager. The project has received attention from the U.S. EPA, USDA and U.S. Department of Energy. One of the main pathways to developing an energy neutral wastewater facility is to produce biogas for electricity and heat generation, Kohl added.

From academia, the Water Environment Research Foundation has expressed interest in the project and how wastewater treatment plants become resource recovery facilities to become utilities of the future, Kohl said.

Currently, the Philadelphia Water Department’s focus will be on organic loading and increasing biogas production, Kohl added. Following the construction of the biogas combined-heat-and-power facility, the department’s ability to monetize organic loadings has become more concrete and less abstract, he said.

The Biogas Cogeneration Project held its grand opening Nov. 22 and was designed to generate 5.6 megawatts of onsite power using biogas from the sewage treatment process.

Ameresco Inc., who engineered and constructed the facility, formed a public-private partnership with City of Philadelphia. The partnership allowed the project to qualify for a grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Additional funding was secured through the Energy Services unit of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.