Resource Recovery from Diverted Food Wastes via Hydrothermal Carbonization

Investigators: University of South Carolina

Start Date:
May 2014

Award Amount:
$123,000



The desire for food waste diversion from municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills is steadily increasing. Recently, through current EREF funding, our research group at the University of South Carolina (USC) has demonstrated that hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) may serve as a sustainable and effective approach to manage diverted food waste, resulting in the generation of a high value, energy-rich, coal-like material that has an energy content as high as 33,750 J/g dry solids. Carbonization of food wastes presents a unique opportunity to not only generate a valuable energy source, but to also recover valuable soluble nutrients and produced chemicals from the process water that are otherwise unrecovered or unavailable. The potential revenue expected from the recovery of these resources, coupled with previously documented generation of a high-value coal material, increases the sustainability and economic viability of HTC, providing a compelling argument for continued evaluation of food waste carbonization. The goal of this project is to explore the sustainable and economically beneficial recovery of these resources. The specific objectives of this project include:

  1. Determine the hydrothermal carbonization operational parameters (e.g., reaction time, reaction temperature, solids concentration) that result in the greatest fraction of extractable nutrients and valuable chemicals (e.g., acetic acid and 5-HMF) in the process water for subsequent sale.
  2. Evaluate nutrient and chemical (e.g., acetic acid and HMF) recovery techniques.
  3. Conduct an economic analysis of simultaneous energy, nutrient, and chemical recovery from food wastes converted via hydrothermal carbonization to provide operational guidance for the proposed treatment scheme.