Researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno are testing the potential of wastewater sludge as a prospective energy source. The research team developed a machine that processes sludge into electrical power and brought it to the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation facility in Reno. The machine will ultimately allow the plant to generate its own power in what will essentially be a closed loop carbon-neutral system.
The demonstration project was able to successfully dry wastewater sludge into a burnable dried powder at a rate of 20 pounds of sludge an hour for 3 pounds of dried powder, said Chuck Coronella, principal investigator and an associate professor of chemical engineering at the university.
The sludge is processed under relatively low temperatures in a fluidized bed of sand and salts and transformed into biomass fuel. The technology is patent pending, and the fuel is being analyzed for its suitability.
The entire unit is also being evaluated to determine the optimum conditions for a commercial-scale operation. Estimates put the potential of the system to 25,000 kilowatt-hours daily to help power the local reclamation facility.
“The beauty of this process is that it’s designed to be all on-site, saving trucking costs and disposal fees for the sludge,” said Victor Vasquez, a university faculty member in chemical engineering.
The University’s Technology Transfer Office, with assistance from the College of Business, plans to make the system available to hundreds of communities around the country that operate water treatment plants. In California alone, approximately 700,000 metric tons of dried sludge are produced annually, which could generate as much as 10 million kWh per day,
The project is funded through the energy innovations small grant program, the California Energy Commission and the Department of Energy.