Future of Biosolids Technology – Extracting Hydrogen From Sludge

The future of biosolids technology continues to unfold with new discoveries and techniques that can harness the potential of this wastewater by-product. Researchers from around the world continue to look for ways to improve biosolids technology to produce practical products from it. This abundant resource, if not recycled properly, will have a negative impact on the environmental.

A study being carried out by researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia are investigating a new biosolids technology to produce hydrogen from wastewater aimed at solving both the challenges of generating renewable energy and curbing harmful emissions that could damage the environment.

Their patented biosolids technology utilises a special material derived from biosolids that initiate chemical reactions leading to the production of hydrogen from biogas. The benefit of this method is that they can source all their materials within the wastewater plant without the need for expensive catalysts. Their process also captures carbon found in biosolids and biogas which results in zero-emissions.

Kalpit Shah, the Deputy Director (Academic) of the ARC Training Centre for Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource at RMIT and head researcher of the study, said that existing methods for producing hydrogen were emissions and capital-intensive, and relied heavily on natural gas. He believes that their biosolids technology method offers a more sustainable, cost-effective, renewable and efficient approach to hydrogen production.

Details of their research have been published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy. It begins with the conversion of biosolids into biochar- a carbon-rich form of charcoal used to improve soil health. The heavy metals found in the biochar make it an ideal catalyst for biogas to produce hydrogen. They experimented with methane, which closely resembles biogas, and subjected it to biochar in a special chamber to decompose the gas into its main elements – hydrogen and carbon.

The process occurs in a specially designed and hyper-efficient reactor developed and patented by RMIT, so that it can produce both hydrogen and high value biochar infused with carbon nanomaterials. The latter has the potential to sequester greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere. It can also be used for other applications such as environmental remediation, boosting agricultural soils and energy storage.

Shah said that at the heart of their biosolids technology is an innovative recycling approach that utilizes a unique reactor developed by the RMIT School of Engineering team. He said that they have radically optimised heat and mass transfer in their reactor, all while shrinking the technology to make it highly mobile. He claims that there are no other reactors that can achieve such remarkable heat and mass integration in such a small and cost-effective package. “While it’s already energy efficient, with further integration, this reactor could turn biosolids and biogas conversion into a process that actually produces energy instead of consuming it,” Shah said.

Their novel rector may also have practical applications in other areas such as biomass, plastics and coating industries.
Plans are currently underway to develop a pilot plant from South East Water to further explore the possibilities of this innovative technology.

If you are a municipality in Ontario and in need of a biosolids management solution, please feel free to contact us at 1 (877) 479-1388.

Sources:
https://www.eurekalert.org
https://www.sciencedaily.com/

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