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Feedstock and process influence on biodiesel produced from waste sewage sludge.


Disposal of sewage sludge is one of the most important issues in wastewater treatment throughout Europe, as EU sludge production, estimated at 9.5 million tons dry weight in 2005, is expected to approach 13 million tons in 2020. While sludge disposal costs may constitute 30-50% of the total operation costs of wastewater treatment processes, waste sewage sludge still contains resources that may be put to use, like nutrients and energy, that can be recovered through a variety of approaches. Research has shown that waste sewage sludge can be a valuable and very productive feedstock for biodiesel generation, containing lipids (the fats from which biofuels are extracted) in amounts that would require large areas cultivated with typical biodiesel feedstock, to produce, and at a much lower final cost. Several methods have been tested for the production of biodiesel from sewage sludge. To date, among the most efficient such process is pyrolysis, and in particular Microwave-Assisted Pyrolysis (MAP), under which process conditions are more favorable in energetic and economic terms. Sludge characteristics are very variable, depending on the characteristics of the wastewater-generating service area and on the wastewater treatment process itself. Each sludge can be considered a unique case, and as such experimental determination of the optimal biodiesel yields must be conducted on a case-by-case basis. In addition to biodiesel, other pyrolysis products can add to the energetic yield of the process (and not only). This paper discusses how feedstock properties and process characteristics may influence biodiesel (and other products) yield from pyrolytic (and in particular, MAP) processes, and discusses future possible technological developments.