University of British Columbia Turning Fatbergs to Fuel

One of the major environmental issues facing our planet today is the management, recycling or disposal of fatbergs in wastewater. The ideal state of zero-waste is still a great challenge for most countries and there is an urgent need to find financially viable and sustainable programs that can turn unwanted materials into useful products. What if turning fatbergs to fuel becomes commercially viable?

Fatbergs are a combination of discarded oils and grease which have congealed and mixed together with other solid wastes to create a mass of large fatty globs which can clog sewer systems.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have recently developed a method of converting these fatbergs to fuel. Although the idea of converting fats into biofuel isn’t new, the researchers have devised a way to break down the fatbergs without having to remove them for processing.

“This method would help to recover and reuse waste cooking oil as a source of energy,” says Asha Srinivasan, an engineering researcher at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Fatbergs contain fats, oils and grease (FOG). Determining the right formula for breaking it down for conversion into biofuel is critical. “Finding the right combination of microwave temperature and hydrogen peroxide dosage is the key to the success of the process,” Srinivasan says. “Our process helps to break down FOG, making it easy for the bacteria to digest and produce more methane.”
This involves heating the FOG at a temperature ranging from between 90 and 110 degrees Celsius. Hydrogen peroxide is used to break down the organic matter and release the fatty acids. Anaerobic bacteria are then introduced to digest the fatty acids which produces methane.

Methane is a type of biofuel that naturally occurs from the decay of organic waste. It can be used to generate electricity and heat, but it can also be further refined for use as biogas and transportation fuel. The produced methane can also be used by the treatment plant to generate heat without having to rely on external fuel sources, which results in additional cost savings.

Destroying fatbergs can be significantly beneficial to the environment as well because it can prevent obstructions and overflows from occurring on sewer systems. By utilizing the fatbergs produced from the waste of food establishments and households, an inexpensive and abundant resource can be tapped for enhancing biofuel production.

It has been reported that more countries have begun to adopt this method as part of their wastewater treatment process in order to harvest methane not only for generating electricity for the treatment plant, but also for sale to other industries that require sustainable biofuels.

Biofuels like methane can be an encouraging solution to the huge environmental problem that comes from improper waste handling and water pollution. With biofuel, we can use clean and green fuel for public and private transportation as well as providing the energy needs for the community.

If this process of turning fatbergs to fuel production becomes more widespread, we would be able to remove a pollutant that could have otherwise damaged our environment and infrastructure. This solution not only reduces fatbergs from ending up in our waters, but it also offers an alternative fuel source that is cheap and sustainable.

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.smithsonianmag.com
https://news.ubc.ca/

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