Unlocking the Full Potential of Waste-to-Energy by Investigating the Impact of Solvent Extractions on Hydrothermal Liquefaction

Authors: David Kenney; Heather Leclerc

Advisor: Andrew Teixeira

Category: Graduate

Global waste management challenges continue to lead to accumulation of solid waste, with the US alone contributing 300 million tons each year. The classical approach to this waste is that it must be landfilled, incinerated, or worse yet, leached into the environment. Hydrothermal liquefaction offers an attractive technological solution to not only reduce anthropogenic waste but also lead to a circular economy by producing renewable biofuels and chemicals. The approach harnesses the corrosive power of hot liquid water near its critical point to convert the macromolecules in in municipal solid waste into four primary products – biofuel, biogas, biochar, and aqueous streams. Recent efforts at WPI, national labs and innovative industry leaders have proven the technological feasibility to produce a rough biocrude. But what’s next? That biocrude is only useful if it can be upgraded into a usable product. My research uses advanced concepts in process intensification to integrate product fractionation into the HTL process. This will result in a product output of usable fractions such as biodiesel, solvents or jet fuel. It will also increase energy recovery and minimize process waste by extracting every last drop of carbon out of the water before it is discharged. This is something new for HTL, and it is something that I believe has the potential to take it from an attractive reactor concept to a realistic solution to a global challenge, finally making substantive progress toward our goal of a sustainable, circular chemical economy.

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