Ontario Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe is calling for the province to expand its use of anaerobic digesters in Municipal Wastewater plants. Saxe argues that the use of these systems could help the province produce enough renewable natural gas to supplement 6% of our Natural Gas consumption and 2% of our total energy consumption. Saxe argues in her annual report that the adoption of these plants across the province could enable municipal wastewater plants could become energy centres, taking in a variety of organic wastes to produce energy and help Ontario meets its carbon reduction commitments.
Biogas is a product of anaerobic digestion, which is a process where microbial organisms consume organic matter in an environment without oxygen. This causes the microbes to produce methane and other gases instead of carbon dioxide. These other gases are removed in a purification process and the remaining product is renewable natural gas, which is chemically identical to the fossil fuel form of natural gas. Biogas is produced from a variety of different waste products, including livestock manure, human liquid wastes, and food wastes.
Currently, municipal waste is dumped into landfills or diluted with natural wastes such as rivers or storm water. The use of anaerobic digesters allows for this material to be diverted from landfills, to produce energy while the leftover digestate can be utilized as a fertilizer.
Push from within the Government towards the adoption of anaerobic digesters is a great first step. The adoption of these systems as well as solid-waste-to-energy plants would allow the province to greatly reduce the amount of waste it buries in landfills each year, and the amount of sewage that gets dumped into our lakes and rivers. Not only that, but this becomes a value added process as you can take material which has no value and convert it into a high demand product like electricity or heat. I agree with Saxe, that it would be challenging to realize this goal particularly due to the higher capital costs, but their benefits could be spectacular.
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