Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced two grand prize winners of the Water Resource Recovery Prize. In this two-phased competition, DOE sought novel, systems-based solutions and technologies that improve efficiency and lower the cost of water treatment, while recovering valuable resources from municipal wastewater.  

“Energy consumption at wastewater treatment plants can account for a third or more of municipal energy bills,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Kelly Speakes-Backman. “The Department of Energy is proud to acknowledge the innovators who joined the Water Resource Recovery Prize with the goal of reducing the cost and improving the energy efficiency of wastewater treatment across the country. Together, solution seekers like these are helping us march toward an equitable clean energy future.”  

Wastewater treatment plants purchase about $2 billion of electricity each year and face more than $200 billion in future capital investment needs to meet future water quality objectives. One way for treatment plants to confront these challenges is by recovering resources and turning them into marketable products. This can create new revenue streams for upgrading water treatment infrastructure, reduce nutrient pollution, and provide new sources of alternative water supplies. These recoverable resources include energy that can be used on-site or sold, nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that can be used as fertilizer, and clean water that can be reused for agricultural, industrial, and potable purposes.  

When the value of the recovered resources more than offsets the cost of recovery, the overall cost of wastewater treatment is reduced. In addition, resource recovery contributes to system-level energy efficiency because recovering energy from wastewater reduces the amount of electricity required to operate the wastewater treatment plant. 

During Phase 2 of the competition, participating teams presented cutting-edge water treatment technology system configurations and business plans with the goal of lowering the ultimate cost of treatment by extracting additional value from wastewater. Only small- and medium-sized facilities (those with flows of up to 50 million gallons per day) were eligible to participate. 

Six Phase 1 teams elected to compete in the second phase of the competition; more information on each team and their proposed solutions are available on the Water Resource Recovery Prize page. After a highly competitive selection process, two of those awardees have been selected as the Phase 2 winners, each receiving $250,000 to continue the development of their unique solutions. The grand prize winners are: 

  • SoMax BioEnergy: The Borough of Phoenixville Wastewater Treatment Plant, in partnership with SoMax BioEnergy, is implementing Hydrothermal Carbonization as a means of biomass conversion and resource recovery. The Borough utilizes biosolids and local food wastes to efficiently create renewable energy that powers their wastewater treatment and creates excess energy that will be used to reach their goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
  • Genifuel Not Waste: The project involves operation of a Hydrothermal Processing system to recover energy in wastewater solids as renewable oil and natural gas. The proposed project will be located at the Anacortes Wastewater Treatment Plant in Anacortes, Washington. The proposed system would recover over 90 percent of the carbon in the sludge stream to produce approximately three barrels of 100 percent renewable biocrude per day for subsequent downstream conversion into drop-in fuels, and a gas product which can be either used as-is or upgraded for direct injection into a natural gas pipeline. 

The Water Resource Recovery Prize, launched by EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, was developed with feedback from industry stakeholders. The prize supports EERE’s American-Made Challenges, which incentivize the nation’s entrepreneurs to strengthen American leadership in energy innovation and domestic manufacturing. 

To learn more about how DOE is working to secure America’s clean energy supply chains, visit the  Advanced Manufacturing Office website.