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Neve Steger

University of South Carolina, MS in Civil Engineering with Specialty in Environmental Engineering

EREF Scholar 2023

Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC) is a unique treatment process that has been used to recover resources from food wastes and/or convert wet wastes to environmentally beneficial value-added liquid (also known as process water) and solid (also known as hydrochar) products. For HTC processes to be adopted in the waste management area, it is important to understand how and/or when using HTC is both economically attractive and environmentally beneficial. It is hypothesized that the economic and environmental benefits associated with HTC will depend on carbonization product use. The use of the hydrochar, a carbon-rich product from the HTC process, as a soil amendment would be advantageous. Degradation of arable topsoil is a critical concern for the global agricultural system in the 21st century. Hydrochar has demonstrated the ability to increase soil nutrient content, water retention, carbon dioxide absorption, and plant growth. The specific objectives addressed in this research include: (1) understand how food waste properties and HTC reaction conditions affect chemical properties of carbonization products, which ultimately influence their overall potential for use as a soil amendment; (2) determine needs for preparing the hydrochar to be used as a soil amendment; (3) generate life cycle inventory (LCI) data to create a life cycle assessment (LCA) of the HTC process, including the use of hydrochar as a soil amendment; and (4) complete LCA simulations and costing analysis to identify the factors that influence the environmental impact of carbonization product use so that environmentally beneficial and economically attractive operational strategies of the HTC of food waste can be developed. Through laboratory work and LCA modeling, each of these objectives will be researched to further explore the future of HTC and the optimal strategies for carbonization product creation and application. It is anticipated that results from this work will advance the solid waste management field through the exploration of HTC as a promising technique for food waste management and simultaneously as a soil amendment addressing the growing concern of topsoil degradation. Results from this work will be used to develop economically attractive and environmentally beneficial strategies for carbonizing food wastes.


Neve Steger is originally from Des Moines, Iowa. She followed her passions, developed in part by her familial roots in agriculture, for environmental sciences to the University of South Carolina in 2019. There she earned a B.S. in Marine Science with emphasis in chemistry and a minor in Environmental and Sustainable Engineering in 2023. During her time at USC, research fostered her fascination with engineering and the natural world. She spent her senior year working on a project focused on understanding factors influencing ammonia volatilization in municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill leachate. Simultaneously, she dedicated herself to the College of Engineering and Computing’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative through leadership within its Women in Engineering (Alpha Omega Epsilon) and Diversity Gala organizations. Not wanting her time as a student of environmental engineering to end, she decided to follow her passions once again, this time in the pursuit of a M.S. in Environmental Engineering at the University of South Carolina; where she is expected to graduate in 2025. Her master’s thesis work will focus on understanding how the hydrothermal carbonization of food waste and any needed treatment of the carbonization products may permit this waste to be used as a soil amendment, which combines her undergraduate education in environmental and aquatic chemistry, her research experience in solid and liquid waste engineering, and her familial background in agricultural science.