Spotlight on 3 Innovative Solid Waste Research Projects

EREFlogoBased in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) is dedicated to advancing sustainable waste management practices. One of the ways it accomplishes this goal is by supporting scientific research and educational initiatives.

Its broad goals include increasing knowledge within the waste management industry and improving the public’s understanding of waste management. EREF works across the country to turn sustainable waste management ideas into actions that benefit industry and communities alike.

One key element of EREF’s activities is the provision of funding to strategic research projects in the area of solid waste management. In 2016, research grants were awarded to three innovative new projects:

  1. Assessing measurement practices for landfill methane emissions.

In recent years, the solid waste management industry and the EPA have been working together to identify and develop different ways to measure methane emissions from landfills. One promising technique is known as the tracer dilution method (TDM). TDM is a way of measuring how the concentration of a particular substance changes as it moves or flows down a channel by using a “tracer” solution as a baseline reference point.

garbageTDM has been used to provide valuable insight into how methane emissions from different landfills are impacted by factors like climate, the operational stage of the landfill, and the presence or absence of a landfill gas collection system.

However, it has not yet been effectively verified against known emissions from an actual landfill. In addition, TDM data may not provide a comprehensive enough picture of methane emissions. This is because data can only be collected under particular conditions.

This EREF-funded research project aims to address these limitations. It will do so by creating a detailed land-atmosphere model of a landfill in the southeastern United States where 440 independent emissions measurements have been taken over a three-year period.

This research has several principal objectives. First, to validate the new model against accurate field data. Second, to provide accurate simulations of methane emissions and estimations of measurement errors. Third, to estimate the level of methane emissions produced at night or during other periods where no field measurements were performed. Finally, to use this modelling work to develop a way to calculate year-round methane emissions from an average landfill with limited available measurements or data.

Principal investigators for this study are Paul Imhoff of the University of Delaware, and Fotini Chow of UC Berkeley.

  1. Improving wastewater disposal practices for coal fly ash and flue gas desulfurization.

Coal-fired power producers in the US are facing increasing pressure to limit the environmentally-damaging effects of traditional disposal practices for coal fly ash and flue gas desulfurization wastewater. A water treatment method known as zero-liquid discharge (ZLD) is gaining in popularity.

When ZLD is implemented, all wastewater resulting from industrial processes like coal power plants is purified and recycled. As a result, no wastewater is generated. However, the solid wastes produced under this disposal method can still be challenging to address. This is because these solids contain significant concentrations of harmful compounds like chloride and mobile heavy metals.

This research project aims to immobilize these potentially-dangerous substances through solidification and stabilization via chemical processes. Finding a safe and effective way to render these compounds stable and immobile could be precisely the type of sustainable disposal solution that the coal-fired power industry needs. The study will use leaching tests to determine the short- and long-term stability of the immobilized compounds under various environmental conditions.

The principal investigator for this study is Ching-Hua Huang of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

  1. Developing strategies for nutrient recovery and treatment from landfill leachate.

The waste management industry is increasingly focusing on ways to recover useful resources from all aspects of the waste stream, and landfill leachate is no exception. At present, leachate management presents a major challenge for landfill managers.

wastewaterAlthough it’s common practice to send concentrated leachate to municipal wastewater treatment plants for processing, this is not a sustainable solution. These facilities are unable to cope over the long term with the significant increases in nitrogen and carbon that leachate processing brings. However, when leachate is combined and treated alongside anaerobic digester reject water, it offers the opportunity to recover useful nutrients.

This study will examine various ways of co-managing anaerobic digester reject water and leachate together. This will help researchers determine how best to recover nutrients and treat residues.

The project has four central objectives. First, determining what the optimal conditions are for the recovery of prime nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Second, determining the quality level of recovered nutrients and verifying the presence of any other metals or hormones. Third, developing a two-stage process to effectively remove carbon from the residues left after nutrient recovery. Fourth, conducting a life-cycle analysis of the nutrient recovery plan in order to determine its long-term feasibility.

Principal investigators for this study are Ramesh Goel of the University of Utah, and Debra Reinhart of the University of Central Florida.

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