Sewage Transformed into Biocrude Oil in minutes

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - 10:25

Researchers at the US Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have found a way to potentially produce 30 million barrels of biocrude oil per year from the 34 billion gal (128 billion liters) of raw sewage that Americans create every day.

Sewage has long been considered as a weak source of biofuel because of its wetness. PNNL's approach is to use HydroThermal Liquefaction (HTL) to turn the sewage into oil, which removes the need for drying, according to the press release on their site.

Organic matter such as human waste can be broken down to simpler chemical compounds. Sewage sludge is pressurized to 3,000 pounds per square inch then placed inside a reactor system that operates at about 660 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat and pressure cause the cells of the waste material to break down into different factors: biocrude and an aqueous liquid phase. This biocrude could then undergo conventional petroleum refining operations to remove small amounts of water and oxygen.

"There is plenty of carbon in municipal waste water sludge and interestingly, there are also fats," says Corinne Drennan, who is responsible for bioenergy technologies research at PNNL. "The fats or lipids appear to facilitate the conversion of other materials in the waste water such as toilet paper, keep the sludge moving through the reactor, and produce a very high quality biocrude that, when refined, yields fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuels."


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