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Fast digestion makes better use of municipal sludge

By Chemical Engineering |

The use of residual sludge from municipal sewage plants as fertilizer in agriculture is controversial (due to heavy metals and other pollutants), and slurry can no longer be disposed of in landfills in many countries. A less expensive alternative to incineration — high-rate digestion of sludge into biogas — can lead to substantial savings (even for small sewage plants) despite the need to invest in the technology that is now state-of-the art in larger plants, according to a cost-benefit analysis performed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB; Stuttgart, Germany; www.igb.fraunhofer.de).www.igb.fraunhofer.de In the fast-digestion process developed at IGB, sludge only needs to remain in the tower for 5–7 d instead of 30–50 d as typical for conventional digestion systems. About 60% of the organic matter is converted into biogas. Using the biogas to make electricity to run the plant, and the reduced volume of sludge needed to be disposed of, can save the operator of a small (28,000 inhabitants) sewage plant about €170,000/yr, according to IGB.
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