Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?



NYC Sewage Gets A First-of-Its Kind Green Makeover

Glycerol is better known as a common ingredient in pharmaceuticals, foods, soaps and perfumes, but lately it’s been wandering off into strange new territory, popping up here and there as a green chemistry alternative to petrochemicals. In the latest development, glycerol (aka glycerin or glycerine) has been successfully deployed as the main ingredient in an innovative new nitrogen removal system at a New York City wastewater treatment plant. It’s the first such facility of its kind in the U.S…and did we mention that this is great news for the biofuel industry, too?

Green chemistry uses glycerol for NYC wastewater

Glycerol by magilla 03 via flickr

Green Chemistry Goes To Work On Wastewater

New York’s new glycerol facility is located at its 26th Ward Wastewater Treatment Plant in Queens. It is helping to improve the municipal wastewater treatment process by removing excess nitrogen from effluent before it is released into surrounding waterways (too much nitrogen = dead fish and other problems).

During the second phase of the standard treatment process, air is pumped into tanks, where ammonia in the partly treated wastewater breaks down into nitrates and nitrites. The new facility adds glycerol as a source of carbon to separate out the nitrogen.

The facility has been in operation for a little over a year and it already helped to reduce nitrogen discharges from 5,800 pounds per day as of December 2011 to 1,900 pounds per day as of March 2013. As recently as 2010 the treatment plant was discharging 11,000 pounds per day, so that’s a huge improvement.

The green chemistry kicks in here because glycerol replaces methanol as a carbon-rich nitrogen remover. Methanol is a highly flammable liquid once made through a distillation of wood (it’s still sometimes called wood alcohol), but today’s conventional methanol is made from natural gas and other fossil sources.

The new facility, which is apparently the first of its kind in the U.S. to use glycerol for nitrogen removal, was recently named National Recognition Award Winner for 2013 by the American Council of Engineering Companies, and New York plans to implement the same system at its other wastewater treatment plants

Solving Biofuel’s Glycerol Problem

New York’s new nitrogen removal facility uses glycerol that is produced as a byproduct of biofuel production, and that’s a major sustainability twofer because it will help the biofuel industry solve a major waste disposal headache.

Though pure glycerol is a high-value product, crude glycerol is another thing. The biofuel industry produces massive amounts of crude glycerol, and in order to sustain itself financially as well as environmentally it needs to find new markets for crude glycerol.

Some of the other crude glycerol developments we’ve been following are its use in microalgae farming, cattle feed, “green” antifreeze, sustainable hydrogen gas production and sustainable methanol production.

On the more exotic end of the scale, a team of researchers based at the U.S. EPA’s National Risk Management Laboratory has just published a paper showing that glycerol can be used to fabricate nanoscale structures of gold, platinum and palladium, making it a potential substitute for toxic substances used in conventional nanomaterials synthesis.

Since the U.S. Navy is all over biofuel, it should also be no surprise that the Navy has some interest in supporting the development of sustainable uses for crude glycerol. Keep your eye on the new integrated biorefinery system under construction by a company called Biodico at Naval Base Ventura County in California. Part of the system involves recycling glycerol back into biorefinery operations in order to speed up processing, as well as recovering other high value products.

Follow me on Google+ and Twitter


Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality and cleantech news coverage? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.

Don't want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


You May Also Like

Clean Power

A new perovskite solar cell promises high efficiency, low cost, and a long life cycle thanks in part to support from the US Army...

Policy & Politics

I found out about this first on a TikTok conspiracy theory channel (don’t ask!) and to my utter surprise and horror, this isn’t a...


“UFOs? This is CleanTechnica, not some crackpot site!” I hear you, but bear with me for a couple minutes real quick. First, I’m going...


The e-bike revolution is here with many options to fit your mobility needs, from lover-friendly cargo bikes to nifty clip-on converter kits.

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.