Like the little engine that could, the University of Nevada, Reno experiment to transform wastewater sludge to electrical power is chugging along, dwarfed by the million-gallon tanks, pipes and pumps at the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility where, ultimately, the plant’s electrical power could be supplied on-site by the process University researchers are developing.
“We are very pleased with the results of the demonstration testing of our research,” Chuck Coronella, principle investigator for the research project and an associate professor of chemical engineering, said. “The process to dry the sludge to make it burnable for a gasification process, which could then be transformed into electricity, is working very well. This is an important step for our renewable energy research, processing about 20 pounds an hour of sludge in a continuous-feed system to produce about 3 pounds an hour of dried powder.”
The team of researchers custom built the processing machine in a lab at the University and brought it to the plant for testing. It uses an innovative process with relatively low temperatures in a fluidized bed of sand and salts to economically produce the biomass fuel from the gooey sludge.
The new patent-pending, low-cost, energy-efficient technology is an experimental carbon-neutral system. The solid fuel it produces will be analyzed for its suitability to be used for fuel through gasification, and the refrigerator-size demonstration unit will help researchers determine the optimum conditions for a commercial-sized operation.
“The beauty of this process is that it’s designed to be all on-site, saving trucking costs and disposal fees for the sludge,” Victor Vasquez, a University faculty member in chemical engineering and collaborator, said. “It uses waste heat from the process to drive the electrical generation. It also keeps the sludge out of the landfill.”
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