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D.C. water is number one at recycling number two

Starting this month, D.C. Water is using revolutionary technology never before used in North America. (WJLA/ Mike Carter-Conneen)

It might sound counter-intuitive, and a little disgusting, but when you go to the bathroom in the District, you're creating clean, renewable energy.

Starting this month, D.C. Water is using revolutionary technology never before used in North America.

The Blue Plains facility has gone green with a $470 million power plant fueled by what you flush down the toilet.

D.C. Water Ceo and General Manager George Hawkins said, "That's a material that we end up with, and in huge quantities, 60 tanker trucks every single day. They're called 'bio-solids.' But it's all the muck we're taking out of the [sewage] water. But turns out, it's filled with resources, including energy."

So-called "thermal hydrolysis" tanks, developed in Norway, pressure cook solid waste and destroy any bacteria.

D.C. Water Director of Resource Recovery Chris Peot said, "[Europeans] have been doing it for 15 or 25 years over there. This is the first [thermal hydrolysis system] in North America though and the largest in the world."

After going through the tanks, the solids are then pumped into eight-story tall cylinders called "anaerobic digesters" where special microbes transform much of that waste into methane. That methane is refined and used to produce electricity.

D.C. Water says about 65 percent of the waste becomes methane, generating 10 megawatts. That equals a third of Blue Plains' power supply.

The leftover solid waste - not transformed into gas - can be used or even sold as top soil, saving D.C. Water and taxpayers millions of dollars each year not hauling away that waste to rural areas.

It's a dirty process, but it creates clean energy.

Scientists believe it could become more common across the country. For now, D.C. Water is number one at recycling number two.

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