Sewage Mining-In-A-Box Yields Mother Lode Of Bioplastic

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Now that the age of fossil fuels and petrochemicals is winding down, sewage mining is obviously the Next Big Thing. The wastewater-to-biogas angle is already going strong and a number of companies are busily reclaiming other useful raw materials, too. Here’s one that just crossed our wire: Applied CleanTech, which has come up with a compact, transportable system called SRS™ for Sewage Recycling System.

The product resulting from SRS is something Applied CleanTech calls Recyllose™, but we’re calling it the Sham Wow of sewage mining because it does so, so many things.

SRS sewage mining system
SRS sewage mining system courtesy of Applied CleanTech.

The Bottom Line For Sewage Mining

SRS and Recyllose involve one of those sustainability twofers that we can’t get enough of. Actually, let’s make that a threefer.

Unlike fossil fuel harvesting, SRS results in (1) a useful product that (2) does not involve ripping up virgin land and (3) solves a major bottom line problem.

Starting with the bottom line issue, modern wastewater treatment is an enormously expensive, energy-sucking endeavor that drags down municipal budgets. Sewage mining offers a way out of the mess by enabling communities to recover value from their wastewater.

Harvesting biogas is becoming a popular solution, because the gas can be used right at the wastewater facility to offset energy costs. New York City, for example, has been harvesting and reusing biogas for years. The city also recently added a pilot project to add food scraps to the biogas stream, with the aim of reducing its solid waste disposal costs, too.

SRS comes into the bottom line equation because it cuts down on the amount of sludge (tiny particles of suspended solids) that goes through the wastewater treatment process, by up to 50 percent. That substantially reduces the energy required to pump wastewater through the treatment facility.

By removing sludge before the conventional treatment process begins, SRS also frees up capacity within the existing plant, enabling local communities to grow while forestalling the need for an expensive wastewater treatment plant expansion.

Applied CleanTech estimates that operating expenses are cut by about 30 percent and capacity is increased by about 30 percent, but we’re guessing that could vary quite a bit depending on the nature of the existing facility.

Since SRS traps the cellulosic particles in sludge (hence the name Recyllose), which otherwise would not be digested during biogas production, you can still get your biogas, too.

Renewable Bioplastic From Sewage

Skipping back to #1, Recyllose is a very useful product indeed. It comes in the form of pellets or pulp consisting mainly of reclaimed cellulose fibers, which makes it suitable for use as a fuel, an additive to pulp and paper, or a bioplastics additive.


The bioplastics angle is a particularly interesting one because it could enable wastewater treatment plant operators to harvest bioplastic feedstock at two different points in the process; by capturing sludge at the beginning, as provided for by SRS, and by capturing biogas at the end, as demonstrated by a company called NewLight Technologies.

Mining From The Built Environment

As for #2, we’re totally fascinated by this whole sewage mining thing because it dovetails with building integrated solar cells and other emerging systems for harvesting renewable energy and other forms of value from the built environment, rather than tearing into virgin lands to extract single-use resources.

In addition to harvesting value from the wastewater treatment process itself, the remote location and expansive grounds of many treatment plants also offer ample opportunity for solar arrays and wind turbines.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3152 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

4 thoughts on “Sewage Mining-In-A-Box Yields Mother Lode Of Bioplastic

  • Ok, here’s my two cents. Just a critique from the peanut gallery.

    The subject of the post, publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) are getting swallowed up by private equity (PE) and hedge funds faster than you can say “activated sludge.”

    As indicated in the post, municipalities are broke and wastewater treatment is expensive. Basically because there’s more people and the waste streams are getting more complex to treat. It’s amazing what people are sewering these days. On top of that, the cost of construction typically comes from federal and state grants. Municipal water/sewer fees only cover operations and maintenance.

    USEPA, the granter of POTW construction is getting its budget cut every year by the real ‘Muricans who think clean water is for the French and east coast liberals. Ironically, most of the USEPA grant money goes to small towns and rural areas. Areas where meth is manufactured in kitchens and spent reactants like acetone are dumped down the drain.

    Anyway, POTW privatization deals aren’t being done for environmental purity reasons. PE and others have several options to make the deal profitable (for them):

    a) lobby to have discharge limits increased so they can sewer into receiving streams at higher loading rates. This is the most sleazy of all the options and should be an issue looked into. It’s amazing what some people will do to make money on the backs of others. I’m assuming suburbs of hedge fund managers in Westchester County, NY and Lake County, IL have clean water and sound wastewater treatment.

    b) Cut operations and maintenance (O&M) cost. That’s what Tina’s subject company is selling. A way to put money back into wastewater treatment by generating a sellable product for the waste stream. The pellets these guys are making, purportedly, will be sold as feedstock alternative for pulp and paper plants and alternative or supplemental fuel stock for biomass to electricity plants.

    Wastewater treatment sludge (or biosolids) get dried and put in a landfill to generate methane or sold to farmers to apply onto industrial farms along with GMO seeds and Roundup(TM). If the subject company’s gizmo is cheaper than those other options, it will get considered by the new operating company owned by the private equity firm. If the cost is reduced, the PE firm will sell the wastewater treatment operating company (as an LLC) to a French sewage and sludge conglomerate for billions in future. And the municipality will have to raise rates.

    c) Water and sewer rates get jacked up. Way up. Hedge fund and private equity managers don’t get mortgages for the fifth and sixth homes. They pay cash and that cash flow comes from municipal utility rates and fees.

  • You are very correct. Its the largest item in the City of Vancouver’s (WA) budget. It was privatized over twenty years ago and handed over to Vieola. Rather than being put up to bid, the contract has been rolled over and over. So much for privatization.

  • From a retired wastewater treatment plant operations specialist with 40+ years experience:

    I am concerned about a number of issues including privatization of POTWs.

    Historically in the U.S. all water/sewer works have been provided by municipalities, sanitary districts, and/or some government authority. Within the last 20 to 30 years discharge limits, population growth, and industrialization of sewered streams combined with enclosure of POTW land areas by housing and development have made unpopular decisions more difficult.

    Tighter treated wastewater discharge limits require newer and more costly treatment technologies be applied every 5, 10, or 15 years. Often land areas surrounding the existing POTW site have sustained significant development promoting popular sentiment to relocate the entire treatment facility (application of the NIMBY response; Not In My Back Yard) further from the city. Waste streams that 30 years ago contained biological and simple suspended organics now contain antiseptics, hydrocarbons, birth control remnants, and antibiotics as well. Upgrading a treatment plant always requires millions of dollars expenditure and is constantly under pressure to reduce costs.

    In the 70’s the U.S. EPA was created by passage of the Clean Water Act. The primary goal of the Act was to improve the health of all waters within the U.S. One critical method of the Act included treatment of all wastewaters discharged into “waters of the state”. Immediately municipalities across the country screamed foul, not having the money to build treatment facilities. The U.S. government stepped in and financed via grants and loans up to 90% of the cost for design and build of these systems. The locality was required to finance the operation and maintenance of these facilities themselves.

    The WWTPs (Wastewater Treatment Plants) themselves tended to be larger and more complex than facilities previously familar to city staff and councils. Electrical bills alone run into thousands to tens of thousands of dollars per month. More than a few mayors and/or council persons would shut portions of the plants off when the operators left for the day, to save money. Furthermore, the complexity of these new plants mandated upgrades in operations personnel. No longer could the “town clown” be regulated to tend the “valve” or “switch ‘ down at the poo-plant. Personnel typically are educated to the Associate and Bachelor’s level with managers holding Master’s degrees. Often PhD’s from academia consult on Microbiology, Chemistry, and Physical phenomenon within these plants.

    In short, many towns cannot afford to clean their own wastewaters generated daily by their existance. If the waste streams cannot be cleaned to standards required, moratoriums on industrial, commercial and residential growth are enforced on the town.

    At about this time, private O&M (operations & maintenance) firms offer to relieve the town of their WWTP operations burden. These companies have centralized laboratories to spread analyses costs across many facilities, saving money. They already own the large trucks required to land apply sludge to farmland for reuse and recovery of readily available nutrients in treated wastewaters. They typically have roving teams of pipefitters, specialty mechanics, and operations specialists to troubleshoot problems within any treatment works.

    These firms will study the waste stream, facility capabilities and personnel; then they will propose taking over the WWTP “headache” for at least 5 years and up to 20 years. Saving 1, 2, 3 or more millions of dollars per year. Furthermore, the companies will write a check to the city for X-Million dollars today, for exclusive rights to operate and maintain the plant. After the term limit of the contract is reached (5 years) the council personnel has changed and renewing the contract becomes “rubber stamped”.

    One aspect rarely mentioned in these scenarios is ownership of the treated wastewater effluent. The contracted firm OWNS THE WASTEWATER DISCHARGE. So what, you say, speak with someone who sold the last of their beef for lack of hay and grains due to drought; when the nearby municipality discharges 1, 5, or 10 Million Gallons of water per day and not a drop for you, unless you pay.

    Travel the world and find numerous locales where the people pay to obtain raw water, pay to treat their water, pay to have their wastewater treated and pay for their treated water for their farms and gardens. Coming to a place in America, soon.

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