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Conjure this: the sewage plants of the past will become the power plants of the future. Plant operators will be the modern Merlins turning waste into energy and pollutants into revenue-producing resources. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s happening now. Exhibit A: On May 25 the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) officially opened the world’s largest nutrient recovery facility at the world’s largest sewage plant — the Stickney plant — in Cicero, IL. In partnership with Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies, MWRD built and will operate the facility to remove phosphorus from the wastewater stream and convert it to a slow-release fertilizer that can be sold. When fully operational, the District may produce up to 10,000 tons a year of Crystal Green® pellets and may derive $1-2 million in revenue.
Nutrient pollution in waterways — principally phosphorus and nitrogen — is a dramatic and growing problem. Much of the phosphorus and nitrogen comes from fertilizer runoff from farms and lawns but some also comes from the waste stream discharged from sewage plants. (Because fertilizer is used so heavily in agriculture, phosphorus is in many of the foods we eat — cheese, salmon, Coca-cola, etc. — and thus is in our human waste.) Phosphorus in waterways causes algae to grow; algae blooms consume oxygen, leaving none for fish and other aquatic life. It’s a vicious cycle.
The MWRD’s nutrient recovery facility will greatly reduce its nutrient effluent load to the Chicago/Calumet river system, upstream of the Mississippi River basin and will reduce the nutrient loading in the Gulf of Mexico.
Turning pollutant into profit? Vicious cycle into virtuous cycle? Even the Chicago Tribune had nice things to say about this! It’s the new alchemy, and it’s happening here and now.