Skip to content

Ryan Thomas

Florida Atlantic University, MS 
EREF Scholar 2022 

Waste-Derived Activated Carbon Materials for Landfill Gas Purification Project Description:
In 2018, 68.2% of all paper was diverted from landfills and recycled in the US [USEPA], however, unlike other recyclable materials, paper is easily contaminated and rendered unfit for the recycling process. Contaminated paper products must be sent to an alternate form of disposal. This contaminated portion of would-be recyclables made up 11.8% of all landfilled material in the US in 2018. In the landfill, this material, along with other organic waste, is anaerobically digested, releasing landfill gas as a by-product. Landfill gas is comprised of mostly methane and carbon dioxide with other ubiquitous impurities such as water vapor and hydrogen sulfide [ATSDR]. Landfill gas accounted for 15% of total methane emissions in 2019, making it the third largest anthropogenic source of methane [USEPA]. However, this gas can be purified and upcycled into grid-quality biomethane, also known as renewable natural gas, which can then be used as an energy source, mitigating the greenhouse gas effect of landfill emissions, and diminishing the need for other forms of methane extraction. The current purification process requires multiple stages to remove each impurity such as desulfurization, drying, and cooling prior to carbon dioxide removal. Ryan’s graduate thesis research aims to develop a paper-waste-derived activated carbon material capable of adsorbing all the impurities from landfill gas in a single-stage filtration process to streamline landfill methane purification and increase the viability of biomethane as an energy source.  

Ryan began his Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Engineering in the Fall of 2017 at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), successfully completing the degree in April 2021 . Throughout his undergraduate degree, he participated in a group competing in the EPA P3 Student Design Competition researching the development of an amine-modified silica for biogas purification. As of December 2021, their team was one out of three to make it to phase II and secure the maximum funding available. Since August 2021, Ryan has been pursuing a Master of Science degree at FAU in Civil Engineering concentrated in Water Resources/Environmental Engineering and is on track to graduate in December 2022. Throughout his master’s, he worked as a Graduate Research Assistant for Dr. Masoud Jahandar Lashaki developing an algae-derived activated carbon material for excess phosphorous removal from water ways to prevent harmful algal blooms funded by Florida Department of Environmental Protection.