The United States annually produces 79 million dry tons of wet biowaste from food processing and animal production. One of the biggest hurdles to extracting energy from this waste is its water content. Drying it requires almost as much energy as can be extracted from it.
Hydrothermal liquification is a potential solution to this problem because it uses water as the reaction medium and converts even nonlipid (nonfatty) biowaste components into biocrude oil that can be further processed into engine fuels.
“Our group developed pilot-scale HTL reactors to produce the biocrude oil for upgrading,” Wan-Ting Chen, the first author of the paper and a professor at the University of Massachusetts, said. “We also were able to separate the distillable fractions from the biocrude oil. Using 10-20 percent upgraded distillates blended with diesel, we saw a 96-100 percent power output and similar pollutant emissions to regular diesel.”
The team is building a pilot-scale reactor that can be mounted on a mobile trailer, with the capacity to process one ton of biowaste and produce 30 gallons of biocrude oil per day. This capacity will allow the team to conduct further research and provide key parameters for commercial-scale application.