The University of Idaho is showing some of its creative ways with its N-E-W Tech water treatment demonstration project, which demonstrates innovation at the nutrient, energy and water nexus. N-E-W Tech is a reactive filtration water-treatment technology that uses a metal functionalized biochar as a sacrificial catalyst with ozone for catalytic oxidation. The process purifies water through a series of connected reactors and filters.
The N-E-W Tech water-treatment technology is at the heart of the 40-ft-long, 9-ton research water treatment process trailer that entered wet test trials and system calibration and will include any required redesign (Figure 1). This early-stage development-process trailer and research platform was created to demonstrate the potential of N-E-W Tech as a next generation of water treatment. This large process skid is the Swiss army knife of the N-E-W Tech technology as it demonstrates:
- renewable water reuse
- biomass energy
- water contaminant destruction
- water sterilization
- nutrient removal
- phosphorus recovery
- biochar fertilizer
- carbon sequestration.
N-E-W Tech is our third-generation technology, with its foundation in six issued patents, and it uses patent-pending reactive water filtration with functionalized biochar as a catalyst and ozone for catalytic oxidation. This technology processes dirty water to a level of treatment suitable for reuse and recycling.
Our N-E-W Tech process trailer will help prove the benefits of this technology including supply of clean, reusable water (Figure 2). In addition, it will also show that the processes’ byproducts can be used for energy production, carbon trading credits and creation of biochar fertilizer. Commercialization of this process is expected in late 2016.
A look at the science
An important piece of the biomass energy potential of this process is the biochar. Biochar is similar to the activated charcoal often used in water treatment systems, inline water filters and filtered water pitchers. Biochar is a charcoal-like product created from the restricted airflow burning of biomass, such as agricultural waste and wood waste, a process called pyrolysis. Similar to charcoal used in a backyard grill, biochar retains about half of its combustion energy value, as it’s half-burned while produced.
During commercial biochar production, the heat from the biochar process can be used in energy generation, and the gaseous byproducts can be further refined to biofuels and combusted for energy. This biomass energy is “carbon neutral” as it is recovered from plant life and not fossil fuels—an important consideration for green, sustainable energy.
Biochar can also be used in agriculture as it traps and isolates carbon in soils for hundreds or thousands of years, and some scientists consider it a possible solution for climate change. Biochar can also help with retention of water and soil nutrients in the plant root zone for agriculture, ensuring irrigation economy and prevention of nutrient runoff pollution of waterways like the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.