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Improving Economics of Waste-to-Fuel Conversion by Extracting Organic Compounds from Process Liquids

Company Name: ThermChem Corporation
Program Office:  Bioenergy
Location: Portland, OR
Email: Bryan Redd, President & Founder;
Award Amount: $189,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Pacific Northwest National Laboratory


ThermChem is developing a process to convert wet waste residues, such as manure, into solid fuel via a process known as hydrothermal carbonization (HTC). The HTC process creates an aqueous byproduct stream (process liquids) currently regarded as a waste stream. But the process liquids contain potentially valuable organic compounds. 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will assist ThermChem with the quantitative identification of organic compounds present in process liquids. PNNL will also identify and demonstrate methods at the bench scale to separate and concentrate valuable organic compounds, and perform techno-economic analysis for a commercial-scale process that could be coupled with the HTC process to create a value-added co-product stream.

To maximize this process's economic potential, ThermChem needs a clear picture of: 1) which compounds to target in the process liquids from various feedstocks, and at which HTC operating parameters; and 2) the optimal methods for capturing, concentrating, and potentially converting those target compounds into value-added products. Creating value from the organics in the process liquids will significantly improve overall HTC process economics.  


Operating at temperatures between 200°C and 240°C, at autogenic pressures, for varied residence times, ThermChem's HTC process can convert a diverse range of feedstocks, including high moisture feedstocks, into hydrochar, a small amount of gas, and process liquid. The hydrochar, a complex carbon matrix, and the process liquid, a complex mixture of compounds, both have potential economic value.

ThermChem has the exclusive rights to three U.S. patents for the use of HTC to process sludges, including manures, algae, and fermentation residues. One of those U.S. patents includes the extraction of phosphorous from manures and other sludges for use in fertilizers and other applications. ThermChem's business model is to deploy HTC at or near the location where the feedstocks are generated, thereby reducing or eliminating many logistics issues and costs.


If successful, this SBV Pilot will allow ThermChem to accelerate commercial deployments of the HTC process — which turns wet waste residues, such as manure, into solid fuel — by strengthening the economic benefits not only to ThermChem, but also to farms, rural food processing facilities, and other customers. As a result, jobs will be created at ThermChem and at every location where we have HTC systems deployed, most of which will be in rural communities. This project will also provide a significant competitive boost to ThermChem in the international marketplace, as well.

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