Waste treatment plants have to get rid of sludge somehow, so why not try to find a way to turn all that muck into energy? That’s what researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno are attempting to do at the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility. If all goes well in Truckee, the system could be expanded to other reclamation facilities in the state. And with 700,000 metric tons of dried sludge generated each year in California alone, there’s a huge opportunity to generate low-cost, low-impact energy for widespread use.
The gasification process developed by the researchers sticks the sludge in a low-temperature bed of sand and salts, as waste heat from the facility drives the dryer’s electricity and the unsavory mix dries out into a powdered biomass fuel and . So far, researchers have been able to produce three pounds dried powder from 20 pounds sludge each hour. Eventually, they hope to develop a full-scale system that could generate 25,000 kilowatt-hours per day–enough to completely power the reclamation facility.