From waste to resource: Training young researchers on developing innovative, circular solutions for wastewater treatment sludge - INCLUE

DC2: Energy-efficient microwave-assisted sludge carbonisation

Project title: Energy-efficient microwave-assisted sludge carbonisation (WP1)

Host Institution: KU Leuven

Country: Belgium

Supervisor: Lise Appels (PhD promoter); Co-supervisors: Maria Westerholm (SLU)

Objectives: to develop a microwave-based hydrothermal carbonisation (HTC) system for the production of hydrochar while investigating the fate of pesticides, endocrine disruptors and heavy metals in the process and the influence of the processing conditions hereon.

DC2 will integrate microwave application in hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) of sludge, leading to higher yields and quality of the produced carbonaceous hydrochar and lower the energy requirement and reaction time. DC2 will investigate the influence of the major HTC operating conditions (temperature (profile), pressure and reaction time) and sludge composition on the yield and characteristics of the hydrochar (including carbon content, specific surface area and porosity, polarity, aromaticity, elemental composition). DC2 will investigate the heavy metal solubilization induced by the microwaves, and their subsequent catalytic effect (e.g., iron) on the carbonisation rate. DC2 will compare the microwave assisted process with classical HTC towards yield and characteristics of the hydrochar. DC2 will carry out pot trials simulating soil application of the hydrochar.

Expected results:A novel microwave-assisted HTC-system to produce hydrochar from sludge. Knowledge on the degradation mechanism of organic pollutants during carbonisation. Knowledge on the behaviour and catalytic properties of heavy metals during the process.

Enrolment in Doctoral degree(s): KU LEUVEN Arenberg Doctoral School of Science, Engineering and Technology (BE)

Planned secondments:

  • SLU (Sup.: M. Westerholm): M18-20; 3 months: Application of microwave pre-treatment prior to sludge digestion: impact on community dynamics.
  • Inagro (Sup.: J. Leenknegt): M28-31; 3 months: Agricultural application of hydrochar – impact on soil fertility and crop growth.

Candidate requirements:
  • You hold a master’s degree in chemical engineering, bioscience engineering or a related field and you thrive in a multidisciplinary research environment.
  • You have a solid knowledge of separation processes, reactor engineering, and are well-trained in chemical analytical methods.
  • You are ambitious, well organized and have excellent communication skills.
  • You speak and write fluent English and have the ability to work effectively and collaboratively.
  • You are an enthusiastic and motivated person, ready to participate in personal training, international travel and public awareness activities.
  • You have demonstrated your commitment to high quality research.