Researchers test sludge treatment system

A University of Nevada, Reno system to turn wastewater sludge into fuel is scheduled to be set up in the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility, which treats an average of 30 million gallons of wastewater per day.

The experimental system will process 20lb of sludge per hour, drying it at modest temperatures into a solid that will then be analysed for its suitability to be used for fuel through gasification. The refrigerator-sized demonstration unit will help researchers determine the optimum conditions for a commercial-sized operation.

Chuck Coronella, principle investigator for the research project and an associate professor of chemical engineering, said: ’We’re designing, building and assembling a continuous-feed system that will ultimately be used to generate electricity. We’ll run experiments throughout the summer, creating a usable dried product from the sludge.’

Wastewater sludge is a promising biomass stock but is currently being stored in landfills after inefficient processing.

’The beauty of this process is that it’s designed to be all on site, saving trucking costs and disposal fees for the sludge,’ added Victor Vasquez, a university faculty member in chemical engineering.

Estimates, which will be further refined through the research, show that a full-scale system could potentially generate 600kW of electricity a day to help power the plant.

The demonstration-scale project is a collaboration with the cities of Reno and Sparks, operators of the wastewater plant. Installation of the system will begin in April, and it will be tested in mid-May. The project will last until the autumn.

The University’s Technology Transfer Office, with assistance from the College of Business, is supporting the project with plans to make the system available to hundreds of communities around the country that operate water treatment plants.