Scientists found a way to turn sewage into petroleum


Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have found how to turn sewage into crude oil.

This new technology called hydrothermal liquefaction imitates the geological conditions that created the petrol, namely high pressure and temperature. The result is a similar substance to petroleum, mixed with small amount of water and oxygen. It can be refined using the same methods like the petroleum.

In the US alone accounts for 34 billion gallons of sewage every day. It can be turned into more than 30 million barrels of petrol-like substance.

Wastewater for a long time has been viewed as a poor substance to produce biofuel due to the fact that it is too wet. However because of new research, the need for drying can be eliminated, making it far cheaper and less energy intensive.

Using the new technology, stuff like human waste can be broken down into far simpler compounds. The pressure the material is subjected is over 3000 pounds per square inch and 660 degrees fahrenheit. This massive amount of pressure and temperature turns the waste into  bio crude oil  and an aqueous liquid phase.

“There is plenty of carbon in municipal waste water sludge and interestingly, there are also fats,” said Corinne Drennan, bioenergy technologies research at PNNL. “The fats or lipids appear to facilitate the conversion of other materials in the wastewater 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.”

Hydrothermal Liquefaction can save the government money, because the waste does not need to be processed and disposed.

“The best thing about this process is how simple it is,” said Drennan. “The reactor is literally a hot, pressurized tube. We’ve really accelerated hydrothermal conversion technology over the last six years to create a continuous, and scalable process which allows the use of wet wastes like sewage sludge.”

The researchers at PNNL has licensed their technology to Genifuel corporation, that works with Metro Vancouver which has partnership with  23 local authorities in Canada to build a demonstration plant to convert waste into fuel.

“Metro Vancouver hopes to be the first wastewater treatment utility in North America to host hydrothermal liquefaction at one of its treatment plants,” said Darrell Mussatto, chair of Metro Vancouver. “The pilot project will cost between $8 to $9 million (Canadian) with Metro Vancouver providing nearly one-half of the cost directly and the remaining balance subject to external funding.”

When they have sufficient funding, they are going to move to a design phase this year, and their start-up is going to be in 2018.

“If this emerging technology is a success, a future production facility could lead the way for Metro Vancouver’s wastewater operation to meet its sustainability objectives of zero net energy, zero odours and zero residuals,” the chairman said.

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