Jul 19, 2021 - Business

How a Des Moines-based utility makes millions from our poop

Illustration of the poop emoji wearing a top hat and monocle.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Gas created during wastewater treatment is now making a regional utility in Des Moines an estimated $5 million a year, its director said in a public presentation last week.

Why it matters: We always knew our $#!+ was worth something. Now it's finally helping us pay the bills.

How it works: Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority (WRA) recently completed a $20 million project to capture and clean the biogases produced during water treatment.

  • The gasses had previously gone to waste. (The utility burned them off with a large flare.)
  • Now, cleaned fuel is injected into a utility pipeline and sold under contract, WRA director Scott Hutchens told the DSM City Council last week.

Between the lines: The multi-year project went online late last year and generates the equivalent volume of gas used daily in 5,500 average U.S. homes.

  • The project — which benefits from a federal energy tax credit program — will pay for itself within four to six years, Hutchens told Jason.
  • It's earnings will help offset the utility's expenses and pay debt.

The big picture: "Sludge-to-energy" systems are being adopted around the world as technology advances and utilities discover they can reduce pollution and create new revenue, according to research group World Resources Institute.

  • Dubuque began selling its wastewater gas in 2018, while Sioux City launched a program last year.
  • Our metro landfill has been capturing gas created from garbage for decades. It's used to make electricity — enough to power about 5K homes.

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