eNews September 2022

NM WRRI Awards UNM Graduate Student a Student Water Research Grant for his Work Transforming Wastewater Sewage into Recoverable Energy

NM WRRI Awards UNM Graduate Student a Student Water Research Grant for his Work Transforming Wastewater Sewage into Recoverable Energy

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Sr. Student Program Coordinator

Carl L. Abadam, a graduate student at the University of New Mexico’s Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, is working on research transforming wastewater sewage into renewable energy. Abadam believes that wastewater sludges are primed for energy recovery due to their high lipids content and consistent availability. The process Abadam is working on is called hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) and is a wet thermochemical process that exploits the untapped energy content of wastewater sludges and transforms them into valuable products like sustainable biocrude oil. According to Abadam, “it’s an extreme pressure cooker that takes excreta and fuels your car.” He explains that HTL is a transformative technology that could shift our perspective from viewing waste as a problem to seeing waste as a sustainable energy source. The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute has awarded Abadam a Student Water Research Grant for his important research on this topic.

Under the guidance of his faculty advisor Dr. Anjali Mulchandani, Abadam’s study will focus on biocrude yields in relation to the overall wastewater treatment train. According to Abadam, “while anaerobic digestion seems to be the technology of choice for sludge stabilization, the greater efficiency, contaminant removal, and higher product valorization of HTL can potentially change how the solids process train looks like in future wastewater facilities.” Abadam believes that as regulations prioritize the effluent quality of wastewater, higher contaminant concentrations in the solids effluent could make current biosolids management (i.e., landfilling, incineration, and land application) less viable. Therefore, Abadam believes wastewater sludge stabilization technology must keep pace with the technologies in the liquids train to ensure the future sustainability of treated wastewater.

Abadam will present this research at the upcoming 67th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and plans to attend the Water Environment Federation Residuals and Biosolids Conference in 2023. Abadam is planning on graduating with a Master of Science in Civil Engineering with a focus on Environmental Engineering in May of 2023. After graduation, Abadam plans to pursue a PhD in environmental engineering and continue his work researching innovative technologies for water and wastewater.