Research and Programs
International (Regional) Joint Research from NSFC
Collaborative Research: Investigating the role of wet wastes in the global circular economy: sustainable conversion to products using hydrothermal carbonization

Source: Date: 2019-11-27 Click:

Principal Investigator:XU Guohua
Funding Received:  2.5 million
Sponsored by: National Natural Science Foundation of China
Project Period:2020.01-2023.12
Brief Introduction to the Project:

  There are growing and well-documented concerns associated with the ability of the interconnected and interdependent food, energy, and water (FEW) systems to adapt to stresses resulting from anticipated population growth, climate variability, land use changes, and environmental pollution. Developing innovative and sustainable systems-level technological solutions to overcome and/or mitigate implications associated with these anticipated demands is critical to ensure future societal needs are met. We believe that resource recovery from wastes will play an important role in such solutions, which will require a change in how waste streams are currently managed. Waste management practices must transition from the "take-make-consume and dispose" model currently practiced, to that of a circular economy (CE) model, during which wastes are reduced and resources from the wastes are efficiently extracted and reused to minimize our reliance on dwindling supplies of virgin resources and reducing system environmental impact and promoting a sustainable economy.
  This proposal focuses on exploring the role of food production-related wet organic wastes in a CE model. We hypothesize that extracting, reusing resources, and creating products of value from wet wastes using a process called hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) is a more sustainable and economically viable approach than traditionally used processes. This proposal will advance the science and technology needed to: (1) improve fundamental knowledge associated with the link between waste properties, HTC process conditions, and HTC-generated product characteristics to promote sustainable and successful integration within the FEW systems, (2) systematically evaluate how HTC-generated products (e.g., hydrochar and process water) can be recycled to minimize anticipated challenges in the FEW systems, including soil health, microbial population dynamics, and energy and water scarcity, and (3) develop implementation strategies for global application of the CE model under various specific FEW stress driven scenarios by using life cycle assessment (LCA) and techno-economic analysis (TEA) modeling.
  This project has a strong international component with China. A series of laboratory, greenhouse and field scale experiments will be conducted to understand how changes in food, agricultural, and livestock wastes influence the HTC process, and to understand the ability of the generated solid and liquid products to impact the FEW systems. In addition, data-driven models describing the resource recovery and subsequent recycling processes will be generated and integrated into LCA and TEA models to detail how FEW system water footprints, energy balances, and nutrient requirements are influenced by HTC product introduction to the environment. Laboratory scale testing and modeling will be conducted in the United States and greenhouse and small field-scale testing of carbonization products will be performed in China. Results from this work will be used to identify successful strategies for specific FEW stress-driven scenarios. Specific scenarios representative of the US and China will be conducted.
  As concerns associated with future limitations in resource availability exist, it is becoming inevitable that solid and liquid waste management approaches need to transition to a circular economy approach. Work conducted through this grant will determine the ability of a waste conversion technique to make a significant impact in reducing our reliance on dwindling virgin resource consumption. This research is transformative in that it will provide the scientific basis needed to initiate shifts in the current waste treatment/management paradigm to promote sustainable material recovery and management, rather than focusing only on waste disposal. The implications associated with a change in this paradigm extend past the treatment of food, agricultural, and animal wastes to all types of wastes.

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