Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding now available to support recycling and composting

Three colorful bins, labelled "Compost," "Waste," and "Recycle" sit side by side. Each bin's label shows photos of materials that should be placed inside.
Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

On November 17, 2022 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of $100 million in grants for recycling infrastructure and recycling education and outreach projects throughout the country.

The Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling (SWIFR) Grant Program is divided into several funding opportunities. Information on the State and Territory Grant Program and the Political Subdivisions Grant Program is currently available on the U. S. EPA website, with information on the Tribal Grant Program coming soon.

SWIFR Political Subdivisions Grant Program

Entities eligible to apply for funding through the SWIFR Political Subdivisions Grant Program include “Political subdivisions” of states and territories, such as counties, cities, towns, parishes, and similar units of governments that have executive and legislative functions to be political subdivisions of states and territories.

Applications Due: January 16, 2023
Notice of Intent to Apply Deadline: December 15, 2022
Funding Available: The minimum individual award amount is $500,000 and the maximum individual award is $4,000,000 for the grant period.
Grant Period: Up to 3 years

Materials and waste streams considered under this announcement include:

  • Municipal solid waste (MSW), including plastics, organics, paper, metal, glass, etc. and construction and demolition (C&D) debris.
  • In addition, materials and waste streams considered include the management pathways of source reduction, reuse, sending materials to material recovery facilities, composting, industrial uses (e.g., rendering, anaerobic digestion (AD)), and feeding animals.

All applications must achieve one or more of the following objectives:

  • Establish, increase, expand, or optimize collection and improve materials management infrastructure.
  • Fund the creation and construction of tangible infrastructure, technology, or other improvements to reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream.
  • Establish, increase, expand, or optimize capacity for materials management.
  • Establish, improve, expand, or optimize end-markets for the use of recycled commodities.
  • Demonstrate a significant and measurable increase in the diversion, recycling rate, and quality of materials collected for municipal solid waste.

Eligible activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Innovative solutions and/or programs that provide or increase access to prevention, reuse, and recycling in areas that currently do not have access; including development of and/or upgrades to drop-off and transfer stations (including but not limited to a hub-and-spoke model in rural communities), etc.
  • The purchase of recycling equipment, including but not limited to sorting equipment, waste metering, trucks, processing facilities, etc.
  • Upgrades to material recovery facilities (MRFs) such as optical sorters, artificial intelligence, etc.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to composting facilities or anaerobic digesters to increase capacity for organics recycling.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to curbside collection programs or drop-off stations for organics.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to reuse infrastructure such as online reuse platforms, community repair spaces, technology and equipment to improve materials management reuse options, food donation, and upcycling, staging areas for material reuse/donation, reuse warehouses, and reuse centers, and electronic waste and computer recycling and refurbishing.

Recycling Education and Outreach (REO) Grant Program

The REO Grant Program includes $30 million in funding for projects to improve consumer education and outreach on waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and composting. The grants aim to reduce waste generation, decrease contamination in the recycling stream, and increase recycling rates across the country in a manner that is equitable for all.

Eligible applicants include:

  • U.S. States, including Washington, D.C.
  • Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Local governments.
  • Federally recognized tribal governments.
  • Native Hawaiian organizations, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
  • Nonprofit organizations.
  • Public-private partnerships.

Applications Due: January 16, 2023
Notice of Intent to Apply Deadline: December 15, 2022
Funding Available: The minimum individual award floor is $250,000, and the maximum individual award ceiling is $2,000,000 for the grant period.
Grant Period: Up to 3 years

Materials within the scope of this grant program include commonly recycled materials, such as aluminum and steel containers, glass, cardboard paper, and plastics, as well as food, organics (yard and tree trimmings, wood, etc.), textiles, batteries, and electronics. Also within the scope of this grant program are education and outreach activities that prevent or reduce waste by reducing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, recycling, composting, or using anaerobic digestor systems to treat these types of materials or to reduce related contamination.

All projects must encourage the collection of recyclable materials and must achieve one or more of the following objectives:

  • Inform the public about residential or community recycling programs.
  • Provide information about the recycled materials that are accepted as part of a residential or community recycling program that provides for the separate collection of residential solid waste from recycled material.
  • Increase collection rates and decrease contamination in residential and community recycling programs.

Eligible activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Public service announcements.
  • Door-to-door education and outreach campaigns.
  • Social media and digital outreach.
  • An advertising campaign on recycling awareness.
  • The development and dissemination of:
    • a toolkit for a municipal and commercial recycling program.
    • information on the importance of quality in the recycling stream.
    • information on the benefits of recycling.
    • information on what happens to materials after the materials are placed in the bin.
  • Businesses recycling outreach.
  • Bin, cart, and other receptacle labeling and signs.
  • Community ambassador education programs or training the trainer programs.
  • Other education and outreach activities to improve waste prevention, reuse, and recycling, and reduce contamination, such as evaluations and evidence-based messaging and strategies associated with preventing or reducing waste and improving reuse, repair, refurbish, and remanufacture of materials.

Learn more

Vanessa DeShambo, environmental engineer

Vanessa joined the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) in December 2021 as an environmental engineer. Prior to joining the ISTC team, she worked at the U of I College of Veterinary Medicine performing case work and research related to veterinary infectious disease with a primary focus on micro and molecular biology. She also spent her early career with the Allen Institute for Brain Science managing research on mouse genetics and neuroscience. Her research is currently focused on improvement of algal systems for wastewater treatment. Projects topics include hydrothermal liquifaction, nanofiltration, algal toxin destruction, bioaugmentation, and endoreduplication.

Vanessa recently answered some questions about her work.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at ISTC?
I’m relatively new to ISTC, and my primary research currently revolves around using algae to treat wastewater and producing biofuels from that algal biomass. I previously worked at the College of Vet Med, Veterinary Diagnostic Lab doing microbiology clinical case work for over six years. I also worked at the Smithsonian National Zoo and Allen Institute for Brain Science, so I have had a lot of different experiences in my career. I earned my bachelor’s degree in biology at St. Norbert College and my Master’s degree in natural resources and environmental science (NRES) from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I have a strong interest in microorganisms, plants, and animals so natural sciences are a great fit for me. I have two kitties and love to garden and play video games in my free time!

What drew you to your particular area of study?
While working at Vet Med I decided to further my education, and chose NRES because I still had a strong interest in the field, but wanted to continue working with microorganisms. I hope to mix my love of microbiology and environmental science to make a positive impact by coming to ISTC!

What tools are indispensable to your fieldwork?
For my work I have a mix of laboratory, project management, and pilot-scale field work. I could be sampling wastewater sludge, teaching a group of students, or I could be analyzing data on any given day. My most valuable tools are Evernote to keep myself organized, Excel to process data, sample vials, and a microscope!

What do you wish more people understood about your work?
That there is no perfect one size fits all solution to our problems. It takes many minds and many solutions to tackle big problems. I also wish people understood that microorganisms can have a big impact on an ecosystem, even though you can’t always see them at work.

This story first appeared on the People of PRI Blog. Read the original story.

Divert and convert: Campus project takes plastic from waste stream for fuel production

Plastic straws

A new Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) pilot project is gearing up to remove 200 pounds of non-recyclable plastics from University of Illinois campus trash daily and convert it to 140 pounds of crude oil to power university vehicles. The project will demonstrate its benefits to the environment and campus and present unique learning opportunities for students.

Behind food waste, plastics are the second largest component of trash that ends up in landfills. From the U. of I. waste stream, an estimated 1.39 tons of non-recyclable plastics head to a landfill each day. In this two-year project, scientists are using continuous catalytic pyrolysis technology capable of producing 80 percent fuels from plastics #4–#6.

“We will be demonstrating the technology for distributed production of the most desirable fuel for use in university trucks and generating data to make a business case for a commercial-scale system capable of using all plastic waste produced on campus,” said ISTC research engineer Sriraam Chandrasekaran, project principal investigator.

The project is funded by the University’s Student Sustainability Committee, which is a group of students committed to building a more sustainable campus. By converting waste to fuel, the project will decrease the amount of trash in landfills and reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, as well as the campus’ carbon footprint.

A critical element of the project is to involve graduate and undergraduate students in all aspects of the study, particularly those in chemical, mechanical, and environmental engineering. This project is ideal for independent study as part of a senior undergraduate program, Chandrasekaran said.

Students will learn about the technology, identify the parameters of the pyrolysis process for producing high fuel yields, and study the effect of continuous operation on various catalysts. Other tasks will include recording data on system operation and collecting and analyzing liquid samples. The research will also focus on different kinds of contaminants in plastics.

Outreach to the community is particularly important for the project. Chandrasekaran plans to have an open house to showcase the technology’s capabilities.

“The main idea is to show the community how the process works and why plastic recycling is so important,” Chandrasekaran said. “We will emphasize how much we can reduce carbon footprint through this technology, leading to a more sustainable campus. Once the process is underway, non-cyclable plastics can be considered and reclassified as zero waste.”

For more information about waste plastics and other projects, visit the ISTC website.


Media contact: Sriraam Chandrasekaran, 217-300-1477, schandr@illinois.edu
news@prairie.illinois.edu

This story originally appeared on the Prairie Research Institute News blog. Read the original article.

DOE-funded project to find beneficial uses for coal combustion wastes

"Ash lagoon, West Pans" by Richard Webb is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
“Ash lagoon, West Pans” by Richard Webb is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientists at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) are beginning a $1 million, two-year project to find new and value-added uses for fly ash, a powdery remnant of burning coal. Confining the ash in vegetable oil will potentially reduce the amount of fly ash waste and lessen the risk of heavy metals from waste piles leaching into surface and groundwater.

Although fly ash is used in concrete, construction materials, and other products, a significant amount is stored in ash ponds and sent to landfills. Fly ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury, and other harmful chemicals, posing human health and environmental risks when rainwater causes contaminants to leach underground.

“Our biggest motivation for the project is to investigate new, beneficial uses of fly ash, particularly in encapsulating ash into vegetable oils, to help eliminate exposure of heavy metals to the environment,” said BK Sharma, principal investigator of the project.

In this new approach, the scientists will use their expertise in modifying vegetable oils to coat fly ash particles with oil so that the contaminants are fully contained. The challenge will be identifying the appropriate vegetable oil and the right operating conditions to ensure a uniform coating, according to Sriraam Chandrasekaran, co-principal investigator.

The smallest fly ash particles contain the highest concentration of toxic elements. The project targets removing these fine fractions to reduce contamination while also developing a marketable product for commercial use.

“Because of their small size, the ash particles are ideally suited for use as fillers in plastics,” Chandrasekaran said. “The project will not only provide a value-added coated fly ash product but will also help us identify ways to use other fractions in different applications.”

 When fly ash is used in concrete and other materials, its economic value is particularly low. So, it’s not economical to transport the material from power plants to other states or regions.

If ISTC scientists can develop a new technology to develop fillers and toughening agents in products for a booming market—in this case, estimated to be $10 billion a year in the U.S.—the vegetable oil encapsulated fly ash will command a much higher price than unmodified fly ash while also increasing beneficial uses, Sharma said.

In addition, a successful project will make transporting fly ash long distances more economically feasible, provide incentives to develop technologies to size and store fly ash, and create non-seasonal product demand.

The ISTC team is partnering with The Ohio State University, where scientists will investigate the use of coated fly ash materials to replace carbon black filler materials in rubber, particularly for use in tires. Funding is provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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Media contacts: BK Sharma, 217-265-6810, bksharma@illinois.edu, Sriraam Chandrasekaran, 217-300-1477, schandr@illinois.edunews@prairie.illinois.edu

DOE funds new technologies in plastic recycling

Bundled plastics

ISTC is part of a national team to develop artificial intelligence technologies to sort non-recyclable plastics so they can be reused for fuels. The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded the team $2.5 million to complete the three-year project.

Plastics recycling in the U.S. typically requires manual sorting as workers pick out the useful kinds of plastic from conveyor belts and discard the non-recyclable types. This process is labor-intensive and expensive. In this new project, scientists are using high-tech sensors developed by UHV Technologies, Inc. and commercialized through its spin-off Sortera Alloys that will detect specific chemical-based “fingerprints” of each kind of plastic polymer, classifying them through a new system and sorting them into different bins.

“Sensor fusion and artificial intelligence algorithms used in the process will increase the speed and accuracy of plastic sorting, eventually making the technology more economical with a cost goal of less than $30 per ton,” said BK Sharma, co-principal investigator of the project.

Sensor fusion will generate a unique fingerprint for plastic pieces, while deep learning and artificial intelligence algorithms will create a novel classification system for the plastics.

Another challenge for the project is to reduce plastic contamination, a major reason why plastics end up in landfills. One of the project goals is to develop low-cost methods that decrease contamination to less than 5 percent. Improving the purity of plastic waste increases its potential and value for reuse.

A successful process that produces clean plastics, separated by type, could offer marketable products while diverting non-recyclable materials (plastics #3–#7) from landfills. Sharma’s primary role will be to use the catalytic pyrolysis process to determine if the plastics can be used to produce valuable products, primarily diesel or aviation fuels along with gasoline, naphtha, and waxes.

Besides ISTC, the team includes:

  • UHV Technologies, which has created sorting technologies for other products;
  • The Idaho National Laboratory, to complete chemical composition analysis and screening techniques; and
  • The Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, which will help to integrate the proposed technology into the existing recycling industry.

“At the end of the project, if we can come up with a process that can convert mixed plastic into a low-cost feedstock to produce different types of fuels and other products, that will be a big success,” Sharma said.

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Media contact: BK Sharma, 217-265-6810, bksharma@illinois.edu
news@prairie.illinois.edu

This story originally appeared on the Prairie Research Institute website. View the original story here.

ISTC wins another big DOE grant to help reduce wastewater treatment plant pollutants

Organic solids are the main pollutants in wastewater. Removing these solids from wastewater is an energy intensive process. ISTC researcher Lance Schideman has received a $1.98 M grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to help solve this problem.

In this project, “Maximizing Bio-Renewable Energy from Wet Wastes (M-BREWW),” Schideman’s team will investigate the use of a new type of anaerobic membrane bioreactor at wastewater treatment plants.

The project team includes collaborators at Ohio University, Colorado State University, the US Army Corp of Engineers’ Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL), Mainstream Engineering, and Aqua-Aerobic Systems.

They will build on previous work by combining the components of their distributed low-energy wastewater treatment (D-LEWT) system into a fully functioning pilot-scale unit. The D-LEWT system converts wastewater organic solids and ammonia into two harvestable fuels for biopower production (specifically methane and hydrogen gases).

The integrated D-LEWT system and the improvements made to the system components in this project could increase the net energy production at wastewater treatment plants by up to ten times that of current systems.

Flow diagram of traditional wastewater treatment plant processing (image by Leonard G. at English Wikipedia -- CC BY-SA 2.5)
Flow diagram of traditional wastewater treatment plant processing (image by Leonard G. at English Wikipedia — CC BY-SA 2.5)