Making energy from waste: the other natural gas

Feb 17, 2016
Rebecca Jacobson / Inside Energy

Every day, a facility on the outskirts of Grand Junction, Colorado, takes in 8 million gallons of what people have flushed down their toilets and washed down their sinks. The water coming out the other end of the Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant is cleaner than the Colorado River it flows into.

The organic solids strained from that water are now serving a new purpose -- producing fuel for city vehicles.

Matt Richmond / WSKG

According to researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado at Boulder, hydrofracking operations at a gas field in Utah leak 9% of the methane they produce.

These numbers are much higher than earlier, contested findings by the same scientists. In 2012, they measured a leakage rate of 4% at a gas field in Colorado.

Courtesy photo / Cornell University Photography

In April, Bob Howarth and two of his colleagues at Cornell University published a report in the journal Climatic Change, with this conclusion:

Natural gas is a dirtier fuel source than coal or oil.

The piece caused an uproar among energy analystsindustry insiders and researchers, and the result is a new article - set to come out in the same journal - by another Cornell professor, that directly contradicts the initial study:

Natural gas is a cleaner source of energy than coal.

And it's panning out to be a showdown.