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Researchers Convert Human Waste into Usable Fuel

11/8/16 8:44 AM

Fossil fuel reserves are precious resources because they exist in limited quantities. However, some scientists are suggesting we could create similar fuels from a source that, for better or for worse, we'll never run out of: human waste.

Researchers from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have discovered a way to mimic the Earth's own crude oil creation process and turn sewage into usable oil. The process, known as hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL), involves exposing sewage to high temperatures and pressures, similar to those found deep within the planet. The resultant "biocrude" oil can be refined through existing conventional processes into usable fuel.

Although scientists have recognized the energy potential of sewage for many years, it had always been assumed that the material was too wet for practical fuel production. The process engineered by the team at PNNL, however, removes any need for drying and makes the energy conversion process simpler and cheaper than had previously been thought possible.

Throughout the United States, wastewater treatment facilities process 34 billion gallons of sewage each day. Imagine a world in which each of those facilities is repurposed into a biocrude production facility, creating valuable fuel and while also reducing the amount of effluent released into waterways. Based on current estimates, the U.S. alone could create up to 30 million barrels of oil per year using HTL.

This could be a potential two-birds-with-one-stone situation, eliminating our reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels and revolutionizing wastewater treatment. The research team at PNNL hopes to translate their work to agricultural waste as well, creating even more fuel while saving rural streams, lakes and rivers from contamination.

Plans are in place to build a demonstration plant in the Vancouver, British Columbia area. Project leaders hope the facility will be up and running in 2018 to begin the full-scale pilot of HTL biocrude production.

MadgeTech, the recognized leader in data logging technology, is proud to offer products that support both the wastewater treatment and oil and gas industries. Our powerful, easy-to-use data loggers are ideal tools to monitor, verify and validate the high temperatures and pressures necessary to create fuel and purify waste.

To stay up to date on industry news, make sure to follow MadgeTech on Twitter at @MadgeTech.

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