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Alberta city launches sewage pilot project for biofuel conversion

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The Alberta city of Chestermere has begun a pilot program to convert the sewage of its some 20,000 residents into raw water, fertilizer and biofuel.

Since the beginning of the biofuel pilot project on September 10, employees at the municipal public works building have seen a shift from flushing into a septic tank and then transporting waste for treatment, to the use of engineered wetlands and dehydration technology to treat sewage.

The city, just east of Calgary, formed a partnership with locally-based MAGNA Engineering Services Inc. and Calgary-based Eco-Growth Environmental for the pilot project, which is expected to last until December, when the system will be reviewed and possibly refined for larger-scale projects and testing. Regular water samples will be collected and tested by a third party to determine the new system’s efficiency and effectiveness, project leaders explained.

“The hope is that a successful pilot project of converting human waste into fuel would mean that we can start to change how the world deals with biosolids, and that Alberta can be a leader in green technology,” said Glen Smith, vice president and director of Eco-Growth Environmental, in a statement.

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Sewage treatment occurs on-site first through the separation of liquids and solids through a micro-screening process. Then, the liquid component of the waste passes through a set of subsurface wetlands that treat the liquid waste to raw water quality that can be safely released to the natural environment, reused as a raw water source for irrigation, or converted into fuel.

Using engineered wetlands for wastewater treatment

Jennifer Massig, owner of MAGNA Engineering, explained that small communities in Europe have been using engineered wetlands to treat wastewater since the 1920s, but the technology has not been widely adopted across North America.

“We are changing that trend,” announced Massig, who said that greener sewage treatment equates to cleaner lakes and rivers.

Eco-Growth can also use reactors that remove moisture, kill pathogens and reduce odour so that dried biosolids can be heated at some 1,400o F. The process reduces the material to ash to be used as fertilizer or a component in road building material.

Eco-Growth is already converting organic food matter into biofuel, and current clients include the Fairmont Lake Louise and the Canmore Grizzly Paw Brewing Company. By partnering with MAGNA, they can pilot one of two sites in Alberta to test the conversion of human biosolids.

“We all have energy coming out of our butts,” reminds Smith. “Our vision is to put that to use. Our innovative technology transforms raw, organic waste into biofuel so communities can get the most out of their waste.”

Chestermere Mayor Marshall Chalmers said that he hopes the new pilot project can “help set new standards for environmental stewardship in municipalities across Canada.”

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