Innovation That Matters

Human waste in sewage water can be converted into crude oil

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a hydrothermal liquefaction process that converts human waste in sewage water into a crude bio-oil fuel in minutes.

We’ve seen how a sanitation drive in Kenya provided homes with personal toilets and also used the waste to produce household fuels, generating profits that provided a near closed-loop solution to waste management. Now new technology could potentially transform sewage treatment while providing an alternative to crude oil across North America.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), of the US Department of Energy, have developed a process called hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) that treats sewage water in conditions of 3000psi pressure and 660 degrees fahrenheit, breaking down human waste into a soupy ‘biocrude oil’ that functions like naturally produced crude oil but takes only 45 minutes to produce, rather than millions of years. With 34 billion gallons of wastewater requiring treatment daily in the US, PNNL’s technology could produce up to 30 million barrels of oil annually, simultaneously negating the need for investment in waste treatment and disposal, and could also be applied to other waste systems, such as agricultural runoff. The first operational HTL plant is scheduled to open at Metro Vancouver in 2018, with PNNL hoping to convince waste management centers across the US to adopt their system.

Are there other potential solutions that simultaneously cut waste and produce fuel?



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