Production of energy (biodiesel) and recovery of materials (biochar) from pyrolysis of urban waste sludge

  • Arianna Callegari Università degli Studi di Pavia, Pavia, Italy
  • Petr Hlavinek Brno University of Technology, Brno, Czech Republic
  • Andrea Giuseppe Capodaglio Università degli Studi di Pavia, Pavia, Italy
Keywords: biochar, biodiesel, materials, microwaves, pyrolysis, sustainable energy, urban waste sludge.


Safe disposal of sewage sludge is one of the most pressing issues in the wastewater treatment cycle: at the European Union level, sludge production is expected to reach 13 Mt by year 2020. Sludge disposal costs may constitute up to, and sometimes above, 50% of the total cost of operation of a WWTP, and contribute to over 40% of its GHGs emissions. The most common disposal options at the moment are landfilling, disposal in agriculture (about 40% EU-wide), incineration or co-incineration, and use in the industrial production of bricks, asphalts and concrete. Sewage sludge, however, still contains beneficial resources such as nutrients, that can be recovered through specific processes (e.g. precipitation as struvite) and energy, recoverable through a variety of approaches. Microwave-assisted pyrolysis of urban waste sludge was applied for the production of oil, (Syn)gas, and biochar that were afterwards characterized and compared to mainstream alternative fuels (biodiesels) and other material recovery options. Sustainability issues related to the production of biodiesel/biochars from urban wastewater treatment sludge are also discussed. The paper shows that waste urban sludge can indeed be a full component of the urban circular economy by allowing, if properly processed, recovery of energy resources at multiple levels: bio-oils (biodiesel), syngas and bio-char, all having definite advantages for final residues use and disposal. Biodiesel, in particular, allowing energy recovery as liquid fuel, offers a much more flexible and efficient utilization.