Technology Spotlight

What is your technology?
Small-Scale Laboratory Unit of Hydrothermal Carbonization for
 Semi-Continuous Conversion of Wet Biomass.

Our technology, Zero Input Process Carbonization (ZIP-Carb™), is a modular, scalable, skid-mounted system, which uses a hydrothermal process to convert wet biomass waste to a phosphorus-rich hydrophobic solid product and a nitrogen-rich liquid fertilizer. Customer value is created by converting their wastes into a more environmentally friendly and safer biosolids than current Class A. ZIP-Carb processing uses only heat and pressurized water, accelerating a natural geochemical process for transforming biomass to fossil fuels. The aqueous biomass slurry (e.g., biosolids) is pressurized to 40 bars and rapidly heated to a temperature of 250°C in a continuous flow reactor. Within a short residence time, the reactants in liquid water are converted by hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) process, the basis of ZIP-Carb, through hydrolysis, dehydration, and decarboxylation. 

What are the benefits to implementing your technology?
Our laboratory and scientific data on this hydrothermal process highlight a number of advantages, including:

  1. An environmentally friendly solvent, namely subcritical water, for decomposition of organics into hydrochar, both of which are then recycled for safe post-process consumption. 
  2. A controllable, autothermic (no external heat) thermodynamic cycle not susceptible to micro-organism instability or attack by “harmful” organics, in contrast to the current expensive biochemical methods.
  3. A thermal process with complete destruction of pathogens including thermotolerant coliforms (TTC), emerging pollutants such as synthetic endocrine disruptors, and antibiotics. 
  4. An inexpensive biomass conversion process to yield carbon particles (hydrochar), homogeneously distributed in the flow as high-surface-area micro- and nano-nucleation sites for rapid adsorption and concentration of nutrients.
  5. A hydrophobic solid product (i.e., organic fertilizer) for low cost mechanical dewatering to less than 30% moisture using a fraction of energy used in current biosolids dewatering systems with mass approximately equal to 50% that of the original biomass (dry basis).

Has the technology been tested, demonstrated, or implemented anywhere to date?
ZIP-Carb is currently under development at HydroTORR, but batch process versions of the HTC process have been tested both at small scales in research laboratories, as well as larger scales by other European commercial entities. Its efficiency in conversion of various wet biomass has been demonstrated and published extensively. A five-gallon/hr version of a semi-continuous HTC reactor has been developed and demonstrated at the University of Nevada, Reno, our research partner. 

What are some of the next steps needed to advance the technology?
We are actively pursuing financing for R&D to advance development of a pilot-scale system large enough to demonstrate viability of the approach for industrial scales. Our target is demonstration at 50 gallons/hr. The gap funding would advance the development and fund demonstration of this system at a water resource recovery facility (WRRF). Demonstration at this scale will provide insight for scale up, and subsequent demonstration at a scale of 1000-2000 gallons per hour would provide process performance, identify key bottlenecks, and effects of process parameters on key process metrics. The pilotscale demonstrations would also bridge the gap in scale-up to full industrial implementation.

How has LIFT helped, or how can LIFT help?
The LIFT program can provide the means to 1) provide a broader recognition of our technology, 2) establish linkage and partnership with interested WRRF end-users, and 3) identify source of gap funding for advancement of our technology to higher technology readiness levels.


Reza Shekarriz