SoMax BioEnergy – Hydrothermal Carbonization
The Future of Sanitation
SoMax BioEnergy focuses on sustainable and innovative organic waste management, and biobased product commercialization and utilization with Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC) as the cornerstone technology.
In 2014, SoMax BioEnergy partnered with Villanova University’s Sustainable Engineering Program to research and explore the applicability of HTC in the organic waste management industry. Over the 6 years of this research initiative, 8 masters’ theses were written establishing a repository of knowledge and understanding of the chemical, biological, and mechanical processes, and their life cycle impacts, which form the foundation of the SoMax Bioenergy Carbon Reduction Platform (CRP). Synergistic relationships have been established between HTC and other technologies, including gasification, RO membrane filtration, anaerobic digestion, vacuum distillation, and high efficacy dewatering devices that result in maximizing the positive externalities and potential of HTC in comparison to the “business as usual” status of the current processes in waste management, energy production, and biobased product generation. SoMax has formed strategic partnerships with international technology companies and U.S. based manufacturers, engineers, and legal counsel to bring this technology to commercial scale in the United States.
The SoMax BioEnergy “Carbon Reduction Platform” (CRP) utilizes the hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) process as the cornerstone technology. The HTC process converts biomass to a biochar-like material, called hydrochar, that has the energy value of mid to high grade coal. Hydrochar has uses as a sole product, such as energy and a carbon-based soil amendment, but can also be used as an intermediate to create higher-valued carbon-based products such as activated carbon. Before entering the CRP, the raw feedstocks are macerated and tuned to the appropriate percent solids to be pumped through the process. The reactor is essentially a continuous pressure cooker with heat recovery and an anti-fouling design. The process utilizes temperatures around 200°C (392°F) and pressures up to 580 psi. These process parameters elevate the water in the feedstock to a subcritical, reactive state that breaks down the cell walls of the biomass and acts as the main reactant of the carbonization reaction mechanisms. The HTC reaction can take place in as little time as 30 minutes for human waste or take as long as 6 hours for woody biomass. After the reaction occurs the product slurry is depressurized and dewatered. The recommended high-efficacy dewatering equipment creates a hydrochar product that is over 50% solids without using polymer. The carbon-rich hydrochar is formed, prepared or post-treated depending on its end use. The remaining process water is rich in nutrients and can be used as a liquid fertilizer without any further processing before sale and application. Using ancillary technology SoMax can isolate essential nutrients from the process liquid and hydrochar. Phosphorus can be recovered and isolated from the hydrochar, and nitrogen can be isolated from the process liquid in the form of ammonium sulfate, a market ready fertilizer. The ancillary technologies used after HTC can be adjusted to fit the needs of the customer to give the most economic and environmentally sound solution.
Technology Strengths, Weaknesses and Critical Indicators
- May produce a salable product in the form of hydrochar, a product similar to biochar
- Hydrochar does not yet have an established, stable commercial market in the United States
- There is variation of operational intensity by site and by technology, many technologies require pairing with other technologies to offer a comprehensive manure management solution
- There is significant variation of cost depending on site and by technology
- Proven technology for phosphorous recovery, storage reduction, GHG reduction, odor control and pathogen reduction but not widely adopted
- This technology may lose nitrogen to the atmosphere
SoMax BioEnergy was a finalist in the “The Manure Challenge” and a Phase One Winner of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Resource Recovery Prize. The first commercial scale HTC unit in the United States is set to be commissioned in 2021. SoMax BioEnergy has not been evaluated using Newtrient's 9-point scoring process because this technology is not yet in use on a dairy operation in North America.
1. OPERATIONAL HISTORY