Petaluma to turn sewage into truck fuel
Using the latest technology costing millions of dollars, Petaluma will soon be turning to a new source of fuel for powering its fleet of garbage trucks - your toilet.
The California Energy Commission announced this month it was awarding Petaluma $3 million to build a natural gas collection and automotive fueling station at the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, part of an overall $15 million expansion expected for completion in 2018.
The broader work will increase capacity while allowing the plant to take high-strength waste from local industry, creating a scale that Petaluma Environmental Services Manager Leah Walker said was sufficient to process solid waste from city residents and businesses into the foreseeable future.
The project will allow Ellis Creek to keep pace with the massive growth in local breweries, dairy processors and others - companies that generally truck their high-strength waste elsewhere for treatment. Shortening those trips will lower greenhouse gas emissions, as will the eventual switch from most of Petaluma’s diesel-powered garbage trucks to those running on biologically derived natural gas.
“We are very excited to be given the opportunity to beneficially use a previously discarded energy resource to the advantage of our citizens and our environment,” said Dan St. John, Petaluma’s director of public works.
Named as the first runner-up following an initial grant application to the Energy Commission in 2014, Petaluma scooted up a notch to a winning position after the exit of another bidder, Walker said. The Energy Commission announced Petaluma’s award on March 9.
Adding the ability to treat high-strength waste will allow the plant to produce enough methane gas to replace an anticipated 117,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually, Walker said. With fewer truck miles traveled and more fossil fuel remaining underground, the work will allow an annual reduction of around 3,030 tons of greenhouse gases emitted.
“We thought we had this really compelling project, to take our locally produced methane gas from the wastewater of our local industry and turn it into fuel for our garbage trucks,” she said.
The ability to handle that high-strength waste comes as welcome news for the city’s food and beverage manufacturers, companies that are estimated to pump around $1.3 billion into the broader Sonoma County economy while directly employing as many as 1,500 people, according to 2014 study commissioned by the city of Petaluma.
Costs for trucking between seven and 10 loads of waste every day have amounted to between $1.5 million and $2 million annually for Lagunitas Brewing Company alone, said Leon Sharyon, chief financial officer.
Facing massive demand for its hoppy craft brews, Lagunitas included an advanced on-site wastewater treatment facility as a way to move forward with expanded capacity in Petaluma. While the technology is expected to process the majority of the brewery’s organic waste by this summer, Sharyon welcomed the backstop of a local municipal disposal option, something he argued was likely to attract new business to the city.
“That’s going to be the win for all of those businesses,” he said.
With plans for its own expansion, Petaluma Poultry is likely to consider the option over disposal outside of the city, said General Manager Mike Leventini.
“It will likely be a viable option for us that is closer to home. It’s always nice to have the opportunity to take trucks off the road,” he said.
The 2014 study projected that the ability to process high-strength waste in Petaluma could prompt the addition of 307 direct jobs from existing companies. Other jobs anticipated to come from demand created outside the companies themselves amount to more than 1,200 new positions, contributing to a combined windfall of $310 million in direct economic activity.
The full expansion will be funded through a combination of the state grant, mitigation fees from sources like the Lagunitas project and sewer fees, Walker said.
“This will allow us to better support our local industry, saving them money and time. It will also allow us to attract other businesses that require ways to discharge high-strength waste,” said Ingrid Alverde, the city’s economic development manager.
While improving the plant’s solid waste capacity, future work may eventually be needed to accommodate increases in liquid waste, Walker said.
Completed in 2009, the Ellis Creek facility treats around 5 million gallons of wastewater every day, according to information from the city. It replaced a 70-year-old treatment plant on Hopper Street, and serves both Petaluma and Penngrove.