Assessments can help facilities reduce business costs, energy and water consumption, wastewater generation, emissions, and hazardous material usage, which can result in increased profitability, productivity, and competitiveness as well as recycling or diversion of by-products.
The recorded presentation describes: how interested facilities can sign up for the opportunity; the process of preparing for an assessment; what to expect from the report on findings provided by TAP (including some example elements and common opportunities identified); and how TAP can assist with implementation of recommendations, if desired.
A three-year, $2.5 million Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) engineering-scale project will be one of the first and largest to combine carbon dioxide (CO2) from a coal-fired power plant with nutrients from wastewater treatment plants to cultivate algae for animal feeds. The project will demonstrate that producing algae for commodity animal products can be cost-effective and has added environmental benefits.
Algae has been used for decades in the niche markets of health and beauty. A more recent focus is its ability to use CO2 from coal-fired power plants to make biofuels and protein-rich food products.
Algae is fast-growing compared with traditional terrestrial feed crops, so it’s an attractive alternative for use in taking up CO2 from power plants because it requires less land, according to ISTC principal investigator Lance Schideman. Researchers will use the algae species Spirulina because it is already FDA approved for use as a food ingredient and has a high protein content, which commands higher prices.
The algae cultivation system will be integrated with the City Water, Light and Power plant in Springfield, Illinois. Schideman is collaborating with University of Illinois researchers Joshua McCann and Carl Parsons, who will conduct the animal feed studies. Global Algae Innovations will provide the algae biomass production system to be demonstrated at field scale for this project. The project is co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory.
In the past, ISTC scientists have researched wastewater algae systems that are now used at 10 full-scale operating wastewater plants. They’ve also been a leader in recycling the byproducts of hydrothermal biofuel production to enhance algal biomass productivity. Global Algae Innovations is a leading designer and equipment supplier in the algae industry that has developed and demonstrated cost-effective, large-scale algae production systems.
“We’re putting all the pieces together in a coordinated fashion and lowering the net costs of growing algae using industrial and municipal by-products as inputs to improve the economic environmental sustainability of algal carbon capture,” Schideman said.
This approach reduces pollution and replaces the costly CO2 and nutrient inputs used in most algae cultivation systems. In the current commercial technology, managers buy liquid CO2 and various commercial fertilizers for the nutrient supply.
The wastewater, which is full of organic nutrients that support algae growth, will come from a local wastewater treatment plant.
“Using wastewater is a cost savings in the production process and it helps to solve problems that wastewater treatment plants are experiencing in trying to minimize nutrient discharges in the environment,” Schideman said. “In Illinois, the treatment plants are under increasing scrutiny, and regulations that are now voluntary are expected to become more stringent and potentially mandatory within the next decade.”
Ultimately, the system will produce feed especially for cattle and chickens. The product will be dry, which helps reduce spoilage, and will have a high nutritional value compared with some other feeds.
The typical price range for most bulk animal feed ingredients is $150–350 per ton, and certain high-value products can have a market value of $1,000–$2,000 per ton. Algae has the potential to command prices near the top of the range since some species contain highly nutritional components such as antioxidants and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. However, algal animal feeds are not yet established in the market, and the value of these products must be demonstrated through research studies like this one.
Schideman notes that the size of the animal feeds market is quite large and is a good match with the amount of CO2 produced by power plants around the country. Thus, using CO2 from flue gas in algae production has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gasses.
Illinois municipalities hoping to save money on energy costs for wastewater treatment turn to ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) for advice.
The Wastewater Treatment Plant Energy Assistance Program started in 2018 with funding from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Partnering with the University of Illinois’ Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC), the TAP team visits publicly owned wastewater treatment plants across the state and drafts no-cost assessments with specific recommendations on how to lower energy costs. Similar assessments would cost between $6,000 and $12,000.
In four years, this project has developed 108 specialized energy efficiency assessments for individual wastewater treatment plants, identifying recommendations that can save municipalities over $2.8 million annually.
Wastewater treatment plants are one of the largest users of energy in cities. The costs are significant, particularly for plants with older infrastructure. The assessments typically include costs for equipment upgrades or retrofits, the time it takes for an upgrade to pay off in energy savings, and the amount of savings that could be realized with these upgrades.
Assessments also include utility incentives from companies such as Ameren and ComEd to offset as much as 75 percent of the costs for new and updated equipment, according to Mike Springman, retiring manager of the program.
To date, the program has assisted plants serving a total population of nearly 3 million with an annual energy cost savings of $500,000 each year. If the recommendations were all implemented, the savings would include 37.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity and greenhouse gas emissions at 32,590 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
The most common areas that could be improved upon to save energy costs are controls on air blowers, variable speed drives on pumps, and indoor and outdoor lighting. Even small changes can make a big difference, Springman said.
Recently, more plant operators have posed questions about solar energy. Size of the facility and space availability are primary determining factors.
“The next assessment reports will include a discussion on solar energy so that they can make an educated decision,” Springman said.
Over time, Springman’s job has become more challenging.
“The opportunities for cost savings are becoming more complicated,” he said. “The low-hanging fruit has been picked. The easy, low-cost items have already been fixed.”
Springman says that the biggest challenge that treatment plants have faced this year is the biodegradeable wipes that end up in the sewer system. The wipes may eventually degrade in a landfill but they bind up the pumps at wastewater treatment plants, causing a big headache for staff.
The IEPA Wastewater Treatment Plant Energy Assistance Program will continue for at least another three years and will be extended to wastewater treatment for potable water.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has a new web presence. You may now find information on TAP at https://go.illinois.edu/techassist.
TAP makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science, and government to help organizations achieve profitable, sustainable results.
The new website makes it easier to find information on TAP programs, services, and projects. Visitors can sign up for free site visits or learn about fee-for-service opportunities to engage our sustainability experts. Any Illinois organization, business, manufacturing facility, institute of higher learning, government entity, public utility, or institution may request one free site visit (per location) at no cost to the facility.
ISTC conducted the assessment in July 2019 and identified several ways to reduce energy use, including upgrading to LED lighting and installing variable frequency drives on blower motors. The plant used Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program incentives to help fund the upgrades.
Altogether, the lighting and motor upgrades will reduce the township’s energy use by more than 2.3 million kilowatt-hours every year and deliver six-figure savings in annual energy costs.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) at the University of Illinois makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science and government to help clients achieve profitable, sustainable results.
In service to the State of Illinois, ISTC provides all Illinois organizations, businesses, manufacturing facilities, institutions and governments the opportunity for one free site visit and sustainability assessment from TAP. However, in light of the Governor’s stay-at-home order and restrictions on non-essential travel for University personnel as we face the COVID-19 pandemic, TAP staff members are currently not conducting in-person site visits.
But this does not mean that we are not still here to serve you. Our staff members are working remotely, and are available to help your business or community with:
Answers to questions related to waste reduction, water and energy efficiency and conservation
You can also keep up to date on TAP projects and services, case studies, and guidance by subscribing to the ISTC blog (look for the “subscribe” box for email input on the main blog page) or exploring the blog’s Technical Assistance category. Our web site also provides a list of fact sheets, case studies and other publications which may provide inspiration for your efforts. In the coming months, TAP will also be developing a new web site to more fully describe recent projects, successes, and services; this will be linked to directly from the main ISTC web site. Be on the lookout for it!
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.
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.
ECEC19 will be held on May 21-22, 2019, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign, IL. This year the conference will expand beyond the aquatic environment to also include air and soil studies along with effects on human and animal health.
The conference will feature presentations and posters on the latest in emerging contaminant research, policies, and outreach. In addition, there will be plenty of opportunities for discussion and networking with those interested in all aspects of emerging contaminants in the environment.
Researchers, educators, businesses, government officials, regulatory agencies, policy makers, outreach and extension professionals, environmental groups, members of the general public, and medical, veterinary, and public health professionals are encouraged to attend the conference.
In this research study, funded by ISTC’s Sponsored Research Program, Lance Schideman and his team partnered with Abbott Power Plant and the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District to address critical challenges to practical demonstrations of biological CO2 capture systems and subsequent thermochemical conversion of biomass to biofuels.
The researchers developed the capability to harvest and store actual power plant flue gas samples in pressurized cylinders, then used these samples to study acclimation in algae cultivation systems dosed with flue gas. The project also demonstrated the use of anaerobic digestion to recover residual energy from the aqueous byproduct of hydrothermal liquefaction (HTLaq), which is generated during the conversion of algae or other organic feedstocks to biofuels.
This study showed that mixed culture algae are capable of using CO2 in flue gas, and the impact of the flue gas on algal growth rates was positive. Because higher flue gas injection rates resulted in higher productivity and lower CO2 removal efficiency, higher flue gas injection rates are preferable when the CO2 source is cheap and algae are considered the main product. Low flue gas injection rates would be preferable when the CO2 source is expensive or the CO2 removal efficiency is important. Heavy metal analysis showed that algal biomass will accumulate Zn, Pb, and Cu from flue gas, which can exceed certain animal feed regulatory limits.
This work also demonstrated that anaerobic treatment of HTLaq in combination with sewage sludge is feasible in both lab- and full-scale applications, which highlights the potential for enhancing energy recovery from sewage sludge through integration of hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) technology with municipal wastewater treatment. Overall, this study highlights that integrating HTL technology with existing municipal sludge anaerobic digesters could significantly improve the bioenergy production of municipal wastewater treatment systems by 50 to 70% at a cost that is favorable compared to other alternatives.