Every year, Americans send millions of tons of food to the landfill. What if you could use all of those pizza crusts and rotten vegetables to heat your home? That’s already happening in one unlikely laboratory: the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn.
The plant’s longtime superintendent, Jimmy Pynn, shows off the plant’s crown jewels: eight huge, shiny, oval-shaped steel tanks known as digester eggs. Each one contains millions of gallons of black sludge that’s roughly the consistency of pea soup. Pynn calls it “black gold.”
“It has a pungent odor to it,” Pynn says. “To most people it’s like ugly, yucky stuff.”
Where others see foul and potentially hazardous sludge, Pynn sees a source of renewable energy, thanks to trillions of helpful bacteria inside the digester eggs.
“The digesters like to be fed like us: three times a day,” he says. “They like to be kept warm, 98 degrees. And whether we want to admit it or not, we all make gas. And that’s what we have these guys for: to make gas.”
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