A Passion for Energy Efficiency Takes Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility to New Heights in Energy Performance


Bruce Lung
Jul 30, 2015

Located in the Finger Lakes Region of central New York State, the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility (IAWWTF) has made energy efficiency and sustainability a priority since it started service in 1987. By using less energy to treat sewage for the community, IAWWTF can mitigate energy price increases and secure a stronger, safer, and more resilient wastewater treatment system.

The agency’s adoption of greater efficiency has come a long way since the 1980s, when it installed its first anaerobic digestion system and a cogeneration plant. The agency has since made important upgrades to the aeration system in the secondary treatment train, including new blowers and dissolved oxygen controls. IAWWTF even ramped up its production and utilization of biogas to generate its own power. Most recently, IAWWTF is ensuring its efficiency record into the future, with a recent collaboration with the Department of Energy’s Better Plants Challenge, committing to reduce energy intensity by 25% over a 10-year period.

IAWWTF intends to implement a wide variety of energy efficiency projects and innovations to meet the 25% target by 2025. In May 2015, IAWWTF expanded its relationship with DOE by deciding to achieve certification to the DOE’s Superior Energy Performance (SEP) program. SEP is a program that certifies plants that conform with ISO 50001 energy management system standard and achieve third-party verification of energy performance improvements. IAWWTF’s Chief Operator, Dan Ramer, realized that developing and implementing a strategic approach to energy management under the SEP framework would be a valuable way to achieve energy efficiency gains and make progress toward the Better Plants 25% goal.​

To advance its goal of becoming an energy neutral facility, IAWWTF continues to innovate and improve all aspects of the treatment process. Current projects include a gravity-fed enhanced primary treatment system. This system is expected to increase the amount of organic matter that gets removed during primary treatment, and reduce the energy consumption of the aeration process. This will also increase the plant’s biogas generation. When IAWWTF piloted this project, it resulted in a decrease in aeration energy consumption by 62% and an increase in biogas generation by over 500%. Beyond the treatment process, IAWWTF is also researching how to further condition its biogas so that it has a higher methane content and can be used to fuel vehicles.

As IAWWTF continues to stride towards its goals, they will share their experiences implementing improvement projects and overcoming energy efficiency barriers with other water and wastewater treatment partners in the DOE’s Better Plants Program. IAWWTF and other water and wastewater efficiency solutions will be featured in the Better Buildings Solution Center, an online tool designed to help industrial end users find tested and proven energy solutions.