By Don Renfroe
It isn't often that sewage saves money, much less makes any.
But Clean Water Services is installing a system at its Durham treatment facility that can extract phosphorus and ammonia from wastewater. The nutrients will be converted into fertilizer, sold to the company that developed the system and then resold to local farmers, nursery owners and others.
Currently, Clean Water pays to remove and dispose of the nutrients, which tend to stick to the utility's machines. Officials say the $2.5 million system, which will be up and running by spring, will be able to produce 40 tons of fertilizer a month and pay for itself in five years.
After that, the technology developed by Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies should shave about $500,000 off the $44 million the utility spends annually on operating costs, said Mark Poling, wastewater treatment department director.
Ratepayers probably won't see lower service costs, though.
"It's an overall financial impact on the district, but the impact wouldn't be that large," Poling said.
Rob Baur, an operations analyst with Clean Water, has found a way to extract magnesium, which is also used in the fertilizer that Vancouver, B.C.-based Ostara calls Crystal Green.
"We've been on the leading edge of nutrient removal," said Baur, who is patenting the magnesium process.
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