So much energy and time has gone into devising a municipal servicing strategy for the designated Innisfil Heights industrial site that I thought it might be useful to look at alternative approaches or ideas that might be out there.
We tend to look at this as a linear process, spending money on infrastructure upfront and struggling with ‘cost recovery’ of this capital investment in the aftermath. The puzzle is in trying to convince a target audience – citizens, corporations and financiers – that the enterprise is sound. Consequently, there has also been a lot of hand-wringing about exactly what kind of industries might populate out future industrial lands. But we should be aware that past experience is a poor indicator of the future.
Lately, there has been a growing focus on closed loop systems that recycle inputs into useable outputs. In this context, the treatment of water is not ‘waste water’ but more like ‘wasted water’:
“… the EPA is urging wastewater treatment facilities, which treat human and animal waste, to be viewed as Renewable Resource Recovery Facilities that produce clean water, recover energy and generate nutrients.” (Water World, The Rise of Resource Recovery)
A lot of research has been going on that focuses more on refining waste water into valuable and marketable components: phosphorous compounds for agricultural fertilizers, minerals and precious metals, compost, and potable water.
“The traditional mentality has always been that wastewater is a hazardous waste that we need to mitigate. But we view it as an ore. If you were at an iron mine you’re not getting pure iron, you’re getting iron ore and you need to take out the impurities before you have something valuable that you can sell. And wastewater is the same – it’s got water, it’s got energy, nutrients and material. You can produce high-end materials from it; you just have to take out the impurities.”
“Specifically you have nitrogen and phosphorus, which are fertilizers. Production of nitrogen fertilizer actually consumes a tremendous amount of energy and produces a lot of greenhouse gas emissions globally. But in wastewater we have a free supply of nitrogen and phosphorus that we could be recovering in a safe way.
(Wastewater Creates Energy, Products and More, quoting Sebastien Tilmans, Codiga Resource Recovery Centre, Stanford University, April 2016)
These types of systems also employ a biodigester to capture methane as a renewable energy source to power sewage pumping stations:
“You get this biogas and then you can use that to produce electricity and heat using a conventional turbine that’s in any gas-fired power plant. But you can also purify it to pipeline-grade natural gas and put it back into … pipelines potentially or compress it and use it as a vehicle fuel.”
It can also be used as a feed-stock:
“There is a process that has been developed in labs at Stanford and now is a startup company, where you can take the methane, the biogas produced from the anaerobic treatment of wastewater, and turn that into a biodegradable plastic.
What’s great about it compared to regular plastics is that at the end of its life you can recycle it or it can be sent to a landfill or anaerobic digester and turned right back into methane gas and you can make more plastic with it.”
Researchers also think “Localized water recycling … is going to become part of the mix for water reuse… “San Francisco has a new ordinance that every new building [of more than 250,000 square feet/23,000 square meters] is going to need to have an alternative source of water besides the city water. They can use stormwater collected from the street but they can also recycle wastewater in the building itself.”
According to Tilmans, “The technology absolutely exists. The real obstacles of getting [onsite reuse systems] installed today is regulatory – building inspections, codes, things like that – and of course public education. Making sure that not just the public, but regulators and building inspectors, are on board with water reuse and trust it to be safe.”
All of this puts the servicing of Innisfil Heights in a different context. The Lakeshore Water Treatment Plant alone had a capacity in 1996 of 14.4 million litres per day (3,200,000 gallons per day) with a planned expansion to 40 million litres per day. How much of that daily capacity can be potentially ‘monetized’ into useful products?
If biogas powered Innisfil pumping stations how much could be saved in energy costs annually? How would this affect InnServices overall operating costs? How much value would this add to InnPower in remarketable conserved energy?
This got me thinking about energy in general. Shouldn’t all flat industrial and commercial Innisfil rooftops be equipped with solar panels? Every kilowatt produced is one kilowatt that InnPower wouldn’t have to buy at wholesale from Ontario Hydro’s transmission lines. Shouldn’t we consider our urban environment as an underutilized energy resource?
What if Innisfil Heights powered itself to produce valuable resource products from ‘waste’? A new vision of the future emerges. Vision – there’s a word I employ regularly. But it takes leadership. Another word I wistfully hope to use more often.