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DOE to award up to $1.2M to project converting wastewater solids to biogas and liquid fuels; hydrothermal processing

Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) announced a pilot hydrothermal wastewater processing project has been selected by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to receive up to $1.2 million in federal funding. SoCalGas is part of a consortium conducting the pilot, which will be required to share the cost at a minimum of 50% in order to receive federal funds. The consortium is being led by the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WERF).

The project will use Genifuel hydrothermal processing technology (HTP) to convert wastewater solids into renewable natural gas as well as liquid fuels. DOE funding is expected to pay for about half of the design and planning of a pilot plant to produce these renewable fuels at a municipal wastewater treatment facility near Oakland, California. SoCalGas will help oversee the project’s design and assist in obtaining state and federal regulatory approvals and incentives.

The technology, developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) over a 40-year period, converts waste solids from a wastewater treatment plant into biocrude and methane gas using water, heat and pressure. HTP uses subcritical water and pressure (350 °C and 207 bar) to convert the wet organics into crude oil and natural gas. The process mimics the way fossil fuels were formed—but takes 45 minutes rather than millions of years. HTP is highly efficient, capturing more than 85% of feedstock energy and using only 15% for process.

At the process conditions, water changes from a polar molecule to a non-polar molecule and becomes an extremely powerful solvent for organics. Lipids, proteins, and carbs are converted to oil. The oil and water become completely soluble until cool; sulfur and phosphorus become highly insoluble, precipitate rapidly, and are recovered as dense “ore” from the oil stage. All nitrogen is reduced to ammonia in the gas stage, recoverable by membrane or other method.

The biocrude oil, with nearly zero net new carbon emissions, will be refined in an existing refinery, while the methane gas will be sold for transport in the gas pipeline system or used at the pilot plant to offset power needs elsewhere in the plant.

If fully implemented in wastewater treatment operations across the US, the technology will produce more than two billion gallons of gasoline equivalent per year. The system also produces fertilizer byproducts.

The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, near Oakland, California, will host the pilot system. The consortium includes the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation, which represents many of the 16,000 wastewater systems in the US. The consortium also includes Genifuel Corp. with technology from DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Merrick & Co., Tesoro Corp., Metro Vancouver, MicroBio Engineering, Brown and Caldwell, and more than a dozen utility partners.

SoCalGas and its partners have demonstrated that this process can very effectively convert wastewater solids into renewable natural gas, using existing infrastructure, to help replace fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This new technology could have an enormous impact on energy and waste. Converting the wastewater solids produced by treatment plants in the U.S. with hydrothermal processing could produce about 128 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year and save treatment utilities $2.2 billion in solids disposal costs. A city of one million people could produce more than 600 million cubic feet of natural gas per year, save more than $7 million per year in disposal costs, and power nearly 7,000 vehicles per day.

—Jeff Reed, SoCalGas’ director of business strategy and advanced technology



Water treatment plants create methane which can be used to power operations.


When taken to this degree the macro components are recovered for reuse.
This shows the direction for sustainable 21st century cities while expecting the processes to be revenue positive.


Lots of activities are possible when the price is high enough and or scarcity is at hand. If oil went to $200 per barrel if you could even get enough we start gasifying coal, making fuels and sequestering carbon in old spent fossil wells.


You have pretty much seen the highest price for oil unless Trump and the Republicans start another war. Predictions are by 2020, most of the World will be embracing clean energy and EVs and even the U.S. will be joining in to rid ourselves of a hundred years of the fossil fuel black plague.


@lad, you may be right on the oil price, but I do not see "most of the World will be embracing clean energy and EVs" by 2020.
We may well see a lot of solar and more wind, but we'll only see Evs in the more developed parts of the world, and even then (2020) in small numbers, certainly < 10% market share, probably < 5%.
We might also see some in China due to worries over local pollution.


Impressive results.
I suppose wood chips or any other organic waste can be mixed in the sludge for conversion.

And phosphorus comes out as a solid !!!

Phosphorus mines are running empty worldwide.
If seewheet is beïng converted, phosphorus out of seawater can be converted to solid: renewable phosphorus. (Together with renewable crude)

I hope they upscale realy fast

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