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Comparison of Gasification, Pyrolysis and Incineration Technologies for Residuals Management: Future of Advanced Biosolids Processes

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The shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources for energy and chemical needs will be a major challenge in the coming decades to meet sustainability goals, reduce energy costs, and conserve resources. One promising way to realize this is through a more effective use of biomass. Incineration, pyrolysis, and gasification are thermal processes using high temperatures to break down any biomass (i.e. biosolids) containing carbon. Currently, incineration of biosolids is progressively more focused on the recovery of energy from the biosolids in the form of heat (steam) and/or electricity. The amount of energy that can be obtained depends strongly upon the water content of the feed solids and the modification and performance of the incineration and mechanical dewatering operations. Incineration of biosolids is used worldwide at present, more and more in combination with energy recovery; however a number of other alternatives are now becoming more significant, such as pyrolysis and gasification. The two novel technologies, pyrolysis and gasification, use less oxygen than traditional incineration. The pyrolysis process degrades biosolids to produce char (or ash) and bio-oil. Bio-oil can be used as fuel or a food additive. Solid char, also known as biochar, can either be burned for energy or recycled as a fertilizer. The gasification process breaks down the remaining hydrocarbons into syngas using a controlled amount of oxygen. Syngas has a calorific value and can be used as fuel to generate electricity or steam, or as the basic chemical in the petrochemical and refining industries. There are also applications that combine the specific aspects of both pyrolysis and gasification. This paper explains how these novel processes work or differ from each, and describes their benefits and disadvantages as compared with incineration. It also discusses the full-scale applications and the related costs of these novel technologies for biosolids management world-wide.

Keywords: Incineration with energy recovery; bio-oil; gasification; pyrolysis; syngas

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2175/193864709793846484

Publication date: January 1, 2009

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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