We generate waste every day, most of which goes to incineration landfill sites.
And while we try to reduce the waste we produce, a researcher at Memorial University is investigating a sustainable use for it.
Dr. Kelly Hawboldt, professor, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, is researching how to use waste to develop biofuels and bioproducts.
Since this type of research requires a multidisciplinary approach for success, Dr. Hawboldt is part of a collaborative team from the Faculty of Science. The team includes Drs. Robert Helleur, Francesca Kerton, Christopher Kozak, Stephanie MacQuarrie and Peter Pickup from the Department of Chemistry, and Dr. Sukhinder Cheema from the Department of Biochemistry.
“The bulk of current research in this area is in conversion of food and/or residues from forestry and agricultural crops to bioproducts and/or in large-scale conversion systems,” said Dr. Hawboldt.
“Biofuels from food and agricultural production is unsustainable as it uses larges tracks of land and diverts food sources towards fuel. Bioproducts derived from waste biomass – residues from the food processing and forestry/agriculture industry – do not have these disadvantages and divert waste from landfill or costly disposal.”
Transporting waste to landfill sites can be costly, especially for rural communities due to their typically significant distance from landfill facilities.
Dr. Hawboldt and her team of researchers are developing mobile conversion and smaller scale systems that fit with the region’s infrastructure and developing products that can be produced in the region for an in-region use or export.
This would allow the development of local industry and reduce costs associated with waste disposal and transport resulting in an overall more sustainable regional economy.
“We are part of a National Centre of Excellence Network (BioFuelNet) where we are working with industry to develop bioproducts – decomposition brought about by high temperatures – of forestry, fishery and agriculture residues,” said Dr. Hawboldt.
“The bioproducts are made in the region, making the region the primary beneficiary from an economic and environmental perspective.
“Pyrolysis involves the thermochemical decomposition of biomass at elevated temperatures in the absence of oxygen,” said Dr. Hawboldt.
In this case, her team is using biomass derived from residues from sawmills, agriculture residues and fishery by-product. The advantage with pyrolysis, she says, is it produces three products: a bio-oil that can be used as a regional fuel or as a source for high-value chemicals for the chemical industry; a solid biochar, which the researchers are studying as an adsorbent to be used in treating waters and wastewaters; and as a soil amendment to improve the quality of nutrient-poor soil and/or to replace expensive and toxic industrial catalysts with green-based ones.
Methods to extract key high-value chemicals from the bio-oil are being pursued with Dr. Helleur; application of these chemicals as a “green” fuel source for fuel cells are being investigated with Dr. Pickup.
In addition to the pyrolysis of fish residues, Drs. Hawboldt, Cheema, Kerton and Kozak are pursuing extraction of value from solid and liquid fisheries’ waste effluents with the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association and fish processing plants.
“We are characterizing the shell and finfish waste in order to identify low-value products, such as fuel, to high-value products, such as nutraceulticals , and developing sustainable processes to fit with plant and regional needs in collaboration with fish health and nutrition experts to make the fish processing and aquaculture industry more sustainable,” said Dr. Hawboldt.
“To do this, we are collaborating with chemical engineering, chemistry, biochemistry, ocean scientists and the industry, as a whole. For instance, we have developed processes to extract the oil from fish waste and determined the quality is such it could meet heating oil standards. This would represent cost savings for the region in decreased fuel costs and lower the carbon footprint of the processing plant as a whole as it produces a fuel with a lower overall greenhouse gas impact relative to petroleum fuel.”
For Dr. Hawboldt and her team, the focus with all projects is sustainability. If the product or process developed does not have an overall positive impact on the regional economy and environment, then they say the overall success is limited.