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LTU launch project to streamline resource recovery from organic waste

In Sweden, Luleå University of Technology (LTU) has revealed that it has been awarded approximately SEK 9 million (≈ EUR 878 000) in funding from FORMAS – Swedish Research Council for sustainable development for a new three-year project. The aim is to develop, in cooperation with the waste management industry, new methods for treating organic waste, to more efficiently utilize existing treatment plants and make use of resources contained in the waste.

The “Tuvan” municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in Skellefteå, Sweden has also a co-located dedicated food waste biogas plant. The shared facilities, all post-digestion, include biogas storage, upgrading, compression, and flare.

The focus of the project is materials that are difficult to treat, such as sewage sludge containing microplastic and metal contaminants, as well as many other problematic components.

Sweden has invested heavily in infrastructure to treat organic waste such as sewage sludge. Today, biological methods are used, such as composting and digestion, or thermal methods such as combustion, gasification, and pyrolysis. But the biological and thermal methods have been developed in parallel, thus losing the efficiency improvements achieved by combining the benefits of different methods. There is a great potential for improvement if combined waste treatment can be implemented and such solutions are developed in the project together with relevant companies, said Elisabeth Wetterlund, Associate professor of Energy Engineering at Luleå University of Technology (LTU).

Application in focus

Work on improving waste management takes place in several projects in different areas at LTU. Through collaboration between research groups in Waste Science and Technology and Energy Engineering, a unique competence in the area at a national level has been built up.

In this project, we take another step to explore how to implement different types of integrated treatment systems, and what effects it can provide in a technical, economic, energy and environmental perspective. It relates to my previous research in techno-economic system analysis linked to biorefineries. This is a new area but with proven methods. We will also investigate obstacles and drivers at both the actor, company, and policy levels to facilitate future implementation of the system, said Elisabeth Wetterlund.

Researchers Marcus Öhman, Professor of Energy Engineering, Anders Lagerkvist and Lale Andreas, Professor and Associate professor of Waste Science and Technology, have for many years performed research around these processes.

A user panel is now created to engage in dialogue with the industry. Several influential actors are already on board and we like to add a few more. Ideally, the project will generate spin-offs in the form of tests conducted in plants around the country, said Anders Lagerkvist.

Resource recovery

Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are examples of substances that are important to recycle, especially from a global perspective. Particularly phosphorus is a limited resource, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to find phosphor-minerals without high levels of hazardous substances such as, for example, cadmium. Our hypothesis is that by integrating thermal and biological processes, it is possible to increase both energy efficiency and the production of high-quality materials such as mineral phosphorus, said Marcus Öhman.

Luleå University of Technology (LTU) has been awarded approximately SEK 9 million (≈ EUR 878 000) in funding from FORMAS – Swedish Research Council for sustainable development for a new three-year project looking at increasing efficiency and nutrient recovery of existing organic waste treatment plants in Sweden. Elisabeth Wetterlund (left), Marcus Öhman, Lale Andreas and Anders Lagerkvist (photo courtesy Ted Karlsson).

In addition to researchers at LTU, postdoctorate Björn Wallsten, previously employed at Linköping University, is part of the project.

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