Unlocking the Full Potential of Sewage Sludge

Welcome to SludgeX, a startup team of bright master’s students from around the world with the goal of optimizing the sustainability of wastewater treatment plants around the world! Our short 3 minute video will introduce you to our vision, then you can read details about how we envision the start of our journey towards changing the way we think about how sludge can be managed in a sustainable future.

How did we start?

Our story began at Denmark Technical University in the Copenhagen Metropolitan Area, where our team was forged within the X-Tech Entrepreneurship course. This course encourages students to solve challenges pitched from around the world.

Our challenge came from Daegu, South Korea, selected by the Innovation Center Denmark at the Danish Embassy in Seoul. The challenge comes from the Daegu Environmental Corporation, and is supported by the Daegu Metropolitan government and Kyungpook National University, also in Daegu.

Daegu, South Korea

The Daegu Environmental Corporation provided us with a problem concerning the efficiency of the sludge management at their biogas-producing wastewater treatment plants, and tasked us along with other teams around the world participating in the Next Generation Water Action initiative to find a solution.

SludgeX Stakeholder Network

During the process of coming up with a solution, a line of communication was created with a Danish-based company that could provide SludgeX the structure, resources, and knowledge necessary to help develop our solution into a commercially viable upgrade for wastewater treatment plants around the world.

What is sludge?

Sewage Wastewater

Sewage sludge is the coagulated organic semi-solids accumulated as a byproduct of treating the incoming sewage wastewater for recycling or returning to the environment. This sludge is not just waste, but can be a valuable resource for renewable energy readily available with the right technology. The energy is locked within the organic carbon molecules found in the sludge.

In a process called “anaerobic digestion” these molecules can be broken down and restructured as methane, which is a highly energy-dense fuel that can be used to generate heat and energy. In the next section, we learn how this process works and how SludgeX optimizes the system for maximum sustainability and efficiency.

How does it work?

Anaerobic digestion is the process where bacteria consume the organic molecules of the sludge in an oxygen free environment, which then causes the gaseous byproduct of the bacteria to also lack oxygen molecules, therefore being mainly composed of just carbon and hydrogen in the form of CH4, or methane. Methane is an extremely potent fuel that can be used for heating or electricity generation. WWTPs take advantage of this process by digesting sludge for biogas production, and utilize the energy for onsite processes which increases the sustainability of the plant by reducing emissions associated with the processed sludge outside of the treatment plant.

Existing current biogas extraction configuration

Our proprietary system involves pyrolysis, another method of extracting energy from sludge. Pyrolysis is not a novel technology, with copious research and technologies available, however, our system implements pyrolysis alongside anaerobic digestion in order to maximize utilization of energy locked in the sludge in a novel configuration that optimizes both the digestion and the pyrolysis of sludge. Due to the novelty of the concept, details have been omitted, but SludgeX is taking the first steps towards patenting this process.

Biogas extraction under SludgeX system integration

Our solution can provide energy and economic benefits alike, with a decrease in biogas energy use of around 50%, an increase in biogas yield of up to 24%, and a cost savings that can pay off the capital investment in as little as 4 years!

up to +24%

Biogas Production

≥600,000 USD/year

added value

(NG equivalent)

What needs to happen?

In order to take this concept from an idea to reality, a lot of progress has already been made, such as working with our partner AquaGreen to develop the solution, however, much more needs to be done before we are able to commission the pilot project of implementing the SludgeX solution in an actual wastewater treatment plant in Daegu. Most importantly, thorough research and testing need to be conducted to understand the exact extent of efficiency improvements that would be benefited by the treatment plants, justifying the costs associated with installment and operation.

This video shows a rough timeline of past and future milestones in SludgeX’s journey towards commercialization.

SludgeX Milestones

Impact and future

This solution has the potential to not only generate significant amounts of monetary value from the increased biogas extracted, but also helps wastewater treatment plants consume less outside energy, as well as wasting less energy in the sludge that is sent to thermal power plants, which they pay to burn for them.

When scaled up to biochar production replacing the final destination of thermal power plants, the carbon locked in the biochar can provide as a negative carbon footprint, further increasing the sustainability of cities worldwide. The value and incentive of sustainability has been increasing dramatically in the last decades, and our solution can provide a contribution to 4 out of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Our Team

Meet SludgeX! We are a multicultural team of 7 students studying in Denmark in both Denmark Technical University and Copenhagen Business School. Our multidisciplinary background gave our team a real asset to tackle this complex problem.

Contact Us!

This is only the beginning of our long and challenging entrepreneurship journey, so if you are interested in helping us make the world more sustainable, or just would like to know more about us, feel free to reach out to us at these addresses:

Manon Villers: s202934@student.dtu.dk

Benny Nielsen: s210198@student.dtu.dk

Sindhu Jagadeesha: s203013@student.dtu.dk

We are especially looking for assistance in finances, biochemistry, as well as those knowledgeable in sustainable energy systems or wastewater industry applications!