Waste-to-carbon: Is the torrefied sewage sludge with high ash content a better fuel or fertilizer?

Jakub Pulka , Piotr Manczarski , Paweł Stepien , Marzena Styczyńska , Jacek A. Koziel , Andrzej Białowiec

Sewage sludge (SS) recycling is an important part of the proposed ‘circular economy’ concept. SS can be valorized via torrefaction (also known as ‘low-temperature pyrolysis’ or ‘roasting’). SS can, therefore, be considered a low-quality fuel or a source of nutrients essential for plant growth. Biochar produced by torrefaction of SS is a form of carbonized fuel or fertilizer. In this research, for the first time, we tested the feasibility of torrefaction of SS with high ash content for either fuel or organic fertilizer production. The research was conducted in 18 variants (six torrefaction temperatures between 200~300 °C, and three process residence times of 20, 40, 60 min) in 5 repetitions. Fuel and fertilizer properties and multiple regression analysis of produced biochar were conducted. The higher heating value (HHV) of raw SS was 21.2 MJkg-1. Produced biochar was characterized by HHV up to 12.85 MJkg-1 and lower H/C and O/C molar ratio. Therefore, torrefaction of SS with high ash content should not be considered as a method for improving the fuel properties. Instead, the production of fertilizer appears to be favorable. The torrefaction increased C, N, Mg, Ca, K, Na concentration in relation to raw SS. No significant (p < 0.05) influence of the increase of temperature and residence time on the increase of biogenic elements in biochar was found, however the highest biogenic element content, were found in biochar produced for 60 min, under the temperature ranging from 200 to 240 °C. Obtained biochars met the Polish regulatory criteria for mineral-organic fertilizer. Therefore SS torrefaction may be considered a feasible waste recycling technology. The calculation of torrefaction energy and the mass balance shows energy demand <2.5 GJMg-1 w.m., and the expected mass yield of the product, organic fertilizer, is ~178 kgMg-1 w.m of SS. Further investigation should consider the scaling-up of the SS torrefaction process, with the application of other types of SSs.

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