City Wants to Turn New Yorkers' Poop Into Power

Technology could power 2,800 cars a day on just 10 percent of waste stream, according to city estimates

By Melissa Russo
|  Friday, Nov 19, 2010  |  Updated 12:01 PM EDT
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Whether we're brushing or flushing, New Yorkers send more than a billion gallons of water down the drain each day. But the city says we can put our waste to good use.

By Melissa Russo and Hilary Weissman

Whether we're brushing or flushing, New Yorkers send more than a billion gallons of water down the drain each day. But the city says we can put our waste to good use.

We flush it and it's out of our lives. But does anyone give a you-know-what about our waste going to waste? 

"We do," says Commissioner Cas Holloway of the City's Department of Environmental Protection. "And what we're trying to do is take what is pure waste and turn it into a valuable resource."

The water from every toilet that flushes in the Rockaway section of Queens ends up at the Rockaway wastewater treatment plant. But instead of just being treated and dumped in the nearest waterway, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has bigger plans for that waste. 

It's part of a pilot program that converts human wastewater into fuel.

"Now we literally have the ability to make gasoline-grade fuel out of waste water," Holloway said. "It's an environmental benefit, and it would reduce energy costs for the agency."

The experiment exposes wastewater to sunlight, causing photosynthesis. The algae that grows is shipped to a lab to be converted to biofuel.

If the technology works and proves cost efficient the city estimates it could power 2,800 cars a day on just 10 percent of the city's waste stream.

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