Converting sewage and other waste into biogas and fertilisers

Industrial biogas plant

Credit: Animaflora/GettyImages

Universities and water companies have come together to improve methods for converting sewage and other waste into biogas and fertilisers

The municipal sludge that feeds anaerobic digestion (AD) plants operated by Northumbrian Water and other water utilities could prove an even more productive source of sustainable energy than previously believed.

Samples of the foul-smelling mix have been under close examination by scientists from the universities of Teesside and York, drawing on complementary research techniques in a project funded by Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund.

They hope to prove that better understanding of the microbial processes at work will allow AD plant operators to make them more efficient in generating biogas and nitrogen-rich fertilisers. Until now, any improvements have been mainly through better engineering and operational control.

The Royal Society selected the THYME proof-of-concept study for its Summer Science Exhibition, a flagship public engagement event featuring 20 demonstrations of top-quality science.

Water companies constantly measure what is going into their plants and the quantity and quality of biogas they are getting out of them. Some is used to generate electricity and provide heat to the digesters, and any surplus, if upgraded, can be fed into the National Grid. The study hopes to make correlations between those measurements by observing the way the microbes are behaving.

Last updated: 11 March 2021

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