LIFT Launches Biosolids to Energy Evaluation Project  

Biosolids to energy technologies may hold the key to turning biosolids into a renewable source of energy and revenue while simultaneously addressing issues such as biosolids disposal costs and public opposition to land application. In working towards advancing this potential, WERF, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and a group of about 10 wastewater facility owners are collaboratively supporting a bench-scale testing of a new hydrothermal processing biosolids to energy technology.  

The Genifuel hydrothermal processing technology converts organic material into bio-crude oil, natural gas, or both with more than 99% conversion of organics. Hydrothermal processing uses the same processes which form fossil fuels (heat, pressure, time, and water), but amplifies these conditions so the conversion occurs in less than one hour. 

Many biosolids to energy technologies must first dry the sludge or biosolids before they can be converted to energy. The drying process can be very energy intensive and use much of the energy that is generated. However, this technology is specifically designed for wet feed stocks, and has a high net energy yield. The byproduct is clear, sterile water. The process has been successfully tested at small scale with a large variety of feed stocks by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Genifuel, but has only been minimally tested with sewage sludge or biosolids.  

Under this project, a bench-scale testing of the Genifuel technology will be conducted with sewage sludge to validate the amount of crude oil and gas produced from representative sludges, as well as to provide a mass balance and basic techno-economic analysis of the technology.  

The technology was identified through the WEF/WERF LIFT program which is focused on accelerating innovation in the water industry. About 10 wastewater facility owners participating in the LIFT Biosolids to Energy Focus Group agreed to share the cost and risk of the evaluation and have contributed $45,000 to the project. These utility funds have been further leveraged with about $55,000 in funding from an EPA Infrastructure grant administered by WERF, as well as $150,000 in in-kind funding to the project provided by DOE through PNNL, for a total project value of approximately $250,000.

The project officially started February 27, 2015 and will be about six months in duration. An independent contractor, Leidos, was selected by WERF through a competitive process to oversee the evaluation, including the experimental design and analytical work, review and analysis of data, and development of a report summarizing results to help assess the technology performance and determine if further pilot or full-scale testing with wastewater sludge or biosolids is warranted.

A scientifically defensible, independent, and thorough assessment of this technology can provide facility owners and others the information necessary to move this game changing technology from the emerging stage into practice. 

The Genifuel Corporation is a U.S. company based in the Greater Salt Lake City area of Utah, and was formed in 2006 to produce renewable energy by the most efficient, lowest cost, and most scalable means possible.

For more information, contact WERF Director of Water Technologies Jeff Moeller at jmoeller@werf.org