Wastewater’s Not So Bad: Philadelphia Experiments in Sewage-Based Heating

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 17 2012 1:48 PM

Wastewater’s Not So Bad: Philadelphia Experiments in Sewage-Based Heating

Sewage might not have the romance of renewable energy techniques like wind or solar power. But it can keep a wastewater plant warm.

NovaThermal Energy will harness sewage energy to heat a wastewater plant in Philadelphia, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.


In “sewage geothermal,” wastewater passes through a heat pump, which can isolate the energy from heat. Water from dishwashers, showers, and the like can be used. NovaThermal’s patented filter removes larger debris before the water reaches the building it is heating, according to SmartPlanet.

This system is quite efficient, the Inquirer explains:

During the winter, sewage is about 60 degrees, and in summer it can exceed 75 degrees. That’s plenty of energy that can be extracted through a conventional heat pump.

[Chief Executive at NovaThermal Elinor] Haider said the technology is more efficient and cost-effective than traditional geothermal systems, in which deep water wells are drilled into the bedrock to capture heat from the Earth.

The ribbon-cutting at the wastewater plant takes place Thursday.

The company has already completed sewage geothermal projects in China, including hotels, a luxury apartment building (nothing says luxury like sewage!), an office building, and the Beijing Train Station, opened just in time for the 2008 Olympics, NovaThermal also hopes to bring the technology to other buildings close enough to an active sewage line.

If the technology is to take off in the United States, beyond this Philadelphia project, perhaps some rebranding is in order. Forbes contributor Erica Gies quotes XPV Capital Corp.’s David Henderson as saying, “Wastewater is a terrible name for wastewater.”

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.


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