Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Daddy, is garbage bad?"


“Daddy, is garbage bad?”


My 5-year old daughter is entering first grade in about a month.  Her questions about all things in life have become a bit more complex in the past year, but I can usually still come up with a satisfactory answer in short time – but this one left me thinking for a bit.


Of course she was probably asking the question because I had just snapped a photo of our garbage can.  After returning from 5 days at the University of South Florida in the BioWET (Biological Waste to Energy Technology) class, I will never look at a can of garbage the same again.  That orange peel at the bottom of the can…would the world be a better place if I put it through the garbage disposal down the drain to the wastewater treatment plant?  My local wastewater utility anaerobically digests their sludge and uses all of their biogas for process heat, building heat, and a chiller system – seems like a good option, right?  I also know that our garbage winds up in a waste-to-energy facility, so at least it’s being incinerated and converted to power which is certainly not the worst case scenario.  But where does that process line up with other options for processing my orange peel through biological processes to produce energy?


Compared to my daughter, my 4-year old son’s typical line of questioning can generally be described as rapid fire. 


Liam: Why are you taking a picture of the garbage can?

Me: So I can post it to the BioWET blog.

Liam: Why?

Me: Because Dr. Yeh compelled each of us to post our reflections of the class online.

Liam: Why?

Me: Because we all came into our class with different perspectives and we’re trying to capture some of our impressions and findings from the week and share those with others.

Liam: Why?

Me: Eat your Cheerios.


My daughter can explain to you that the water that goes down the drain winds up in pipes “under the house” and eventually goes under the street and then winds up at the wastewater treatment plant.  I’m sure there are a lot of adults that couldn’t get that far if asked about their sanitation system.  So her question about garbage being bad maybe isn’t too surprising.  She knows what gets recycled and what goes in the garbage.  She knows our Christmas tree gets picked up in January and ground into mulch which winds up on our flower beds in the spring.  But…is garbage bad?  Good question.  That depends on a lot of things.  What happens to your garbage?  Does it go to a landfill?  Is that landfill properly designed and operated?  Does it capture biogas and is that biogas then used to produce heat or electricity?  Or is it flared?  Does your garbage go to an incinerator?  Does that incinerator capture the heat to produce energy?  So many questions.  So many nuances.


I didn’t walk away from the week at USF with global experts, energetic graduate students, and other researchers with a clear answer, but I don’t think that was the point.  What I did walk away with was an impression that we have many options on how to optimize our recovery of energy from organic waste.  And the details of those options are being researched by a lot of very smart people.  The paradigm shift of thinking of waste not as waste, but as a resource is gradually happening.  It starts with forward-thinking engineers and scientists who can harness natural processes to recover resources for an increasingly resource-constrained world.  But that shift is implemented when policy-makers, leaders, and the public get behind the concept.  There are many technical challenges ahead of us.  We will continue to optimize and look for new pathways to energy generation.  The good news is that we already know how to get there.  But, widespread adoption of this path forward will require non-technical barriers to be overcome.  I am optimistic we’ll get there and my grandkids will never ask their mom or dad “is garbage bad?” because by then they’ll know that there really is no waste – only resources waiting to be converted into something useful.


Matt Ries

PhD Student

University of South Florida


Monday, July 23, 2012

BioWET 2012 Lectures & Presentations (PDF)


Friday, July 20, 2012

I am by no means an expert in waste to energy concepts or technologies.  When I began working on a paper on the use of agricultural waste for energy production I was basically shooting keywords at Google Scholar in the dark hoping to get a successful hit.  My literature searches were moderately successful, I managed to contribute to our group paper.  But now with the completion of the BioWET course I have learned so much about using waste for energy production.  The course has really solidified what I read the weeks before and everything finally came together.


On Wednesday morning we visited the City of Lakeland's Glendale
Wastewater Reclamation Facility. The link below is associated gives a
general overview of Lakeland's system.

Also, Lakelands two-phase anaerobic digestion system is described at
the following link:

This is a photo of anaerobic digester.
Pablo Cornejo
PhD Student and Research Assistant
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of South Florida

Thursday, July 19, 2012

AWWA Happy Hour today 5:30 - 7:30

Here is the information for the AWWA Happy Hour event today:
Region IV Free Networking Happy Hour
Thursday, July 19, 2012
5:30 pm - 7:30 pm
Tampa Bay Brewing Company, 1600 E.8th Avenue, Tampa
It's located in the Ybor City area of Tampa, on 8th Ave between 15th St. and 17th St.
Parking is available adjacent to the bar, or on the street.
I believe we are working out carpools (I know I can take 3 or 4 people in my car), but there is also a bus line (Route 5) which goes from campus (leaves in front of the Engineering building) and goes straight to Ybor City.
Matt Verbyla

Monday, July 16, 2012

Introductions and a Trip to the Yuengling Brewery

BioWET 2012 Summer School Workshop at the University of South Florida began this Monday morning with a preliminary meeting with all participants, followed by a tour of the local Yuengling Brewery. The meeting was essentially a platform for exchange of knowledge between participants from the United States and the European Union on all matters related to biological waste-to-energy, from biogas upgrade to anaerobic digestion of agricultural and animal wastes, to sanitary landfills and the debate of garbage disposal into the wastewater stream versus landfilling, to social, technical, regulatory, and economical barriers to the widespread adoption of emerging paradigms and technologies in the field.

One interesting takeaway from the meeting was that wastewater is still not classified as a renewable resource in most states in the United States, so even though it is possible to receive renewable energy credits for installing a wind turbine at a wastewater treatment plant, installing biogas equipment is not associated with any sort of incentive.

Another highlight from the meeting was about Germany - currently Germany is producing over 50% of all biogas in the European Union, and they have built the infrastructure to upgrade and supply the biogas into the natural gas grid. Sweden is another country that is going the same route. This seems to be a smart move in an environment where natural gas is being embraced by big oil companies as the next strategic product, as the global oil reserves are projected to have trouble meeting the growing demand in the near future.

The tour of the Yuengling Brewery revealed how important it is to know your hops, your barley, and your malt; how often to change the yeast culture used for fermentation (6 months to a year - remember to keep the mother culture in a lab with cryogenic facilities!); how much it can save you to recover and reuse the carbondioxide from the fermentation process, and to sell your diatomaceous earth. Wastewater treatment? Yes, they are working on that, too.

Finally, the most important bit of information from today: Remember not to leave your beer exposed to sunlight, unless you enjoy the nasty, bitter taste that will ensue.

Onur Ozcan

Ph.D. Student
Teaching Assistant
Research Assistant
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of South Florida
Tampa, 33620, FL

Friday, July 13, 2012

About BioWET 2012

Visit the official BioWET website for detailed information on the workshop programme, venue, field trips, and speaker bios, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

BioWET stands for Biological Waste to Energy Technologies. This weblog was created to share information about the BioWET conference taking place on July 16-20, 2012 at the University of South Florida in Tampa. This gathering will consist of various speakers from the United States and Europe discussing topics related to waste-to-energy technologies, such as biofuel from biomass and algae, anaerobic membrane reactors, biogas from livestock wastes, and bio-electrochemical systems. 

The University of South Florida (USF) is partnering with UNESCO-IHE (Delft, NL) and Institute of Chemical Technology (Prague, CZ) on a EU funded project called Advanced Biological Waste to Energy Technologies (BioWET). Over the next four years, ICT and IHE will be sending faculty and students to USF on extended exchange visits to conduct research on the BioWET topic. Project investigators are Dr. Jan Bartacek and Dr. Pavel Jenicek from ICT, Dr. Piet Lens from IHE, and Dr. Yeh and Dr. Ergas from USF. 

The BioWET conference is a kick-off summer workshop planned for the week of July 16-20. The workshop is comprised of lectures and field trips. In addition to the BioWET project investigators, we have also invited several other renowned bioenergy experts to speak at the workshop. This will be a great gathering. 

Other speakers include Dr. Caitlyn Butler from the University of Massachusetts, Dr. George Philippidis from USF Polytechnic, Dr. Debra Reinhart from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Ann C. Wilkie from the University of Florida-Institute of Food and Agicultural Sciences (UF-IFAS) and various student presenters.