A Novel Way to Extract Resources from MN Food Waste while Removing PFAS
Primary Investigator: Bridget Ulrich
Industry Partners: Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy Board
Award Type: Seed Grant – Postdoctoral Research Scholar
Problem: Every year, the US disposes of over 35 million tons of food waste, which can be converted into nutrients and energy such as biofuels and biofertilizers. Food waste can be broken down by microorganisms via a process called anaerobic digestion (AD). However, food waste contains poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or harmful chemicals that are resistant to breakdown processes in AD and the environment. Innovative treatment methods are needed to recover nutrients and energy from food waste without contaminating the environment with PFAS.
Solution: A treatment train approach that incorporates AD and hydrothermal treatment (HT) can recover resources from food waste while potentially breaking down PFAS to prevent contamination. HT works by decomposing food waste under high temperatures in a watery environment. This process produces energy-rich biofuels and nutrient-rich fertilizers. Furthermore, HT has been shown to degrade PFAS. The project will evaluate the effectiveness of this treatment train approach on actual food waste collected by the Ramsey/Washington Energy and Recycling Board.
Impact: The development of approaches that recover resources from waste without damaging the environment relates to several of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. This treatment train approach could serve as an effective way to reduce food waste, produce sustainable energy, and minimize environmental damage. Successful treatment of food waste will lead to broad sustainable improvements in food and energy industries while providing small businesses the opportunity to locally collect, convert, and utilize food waste.
Read about Dr. Ulrich’s work on bioremediation and relate research.