Five WSU “waste-to-resources” research projects have been awarded grants by the Washington State Department of Ecology totaling $586,000.

The five WSU projects are among six research and two demonstration proposals to receive funding under the department’s “Organic Waste to Resources” program, which awarded a total of just under $730,000 in grants.

The competitive grants are part of the department’s Beyond Waste Plan that envisions being able to reclaim all waste materials through industrial and organic recovery systems in 30 years. The plan aims to create sustainable organic reclamation systems statewide, eliminate the need for fossil-based fuels and fertilizers, generate fuels and fertilizers from biomass and reduce carbon impacts.

The WSU projects receiving funding are:

Using Bio-refineries to convert softwood bark to transportation fuelsBiological Systems Engineering assistant professor Manuel Garcia-Perez was awarded $119,905 to evaluate a process to use the 14.2 million tons of woody biomass waste generated in the state annually by logging and mill operations to produce crude bio-oils. Refineries could further convert these materials into transportation fuels, chemicals and biochar, a potentially valuable soil amendment to create higher soil health and fertility.

Turning waste organic material into a soil amendment
A team headed by the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Chad Kruger and David Granatstein, and USDA Agricultural Research Service soil scientist Hal Collins received $116,078 to research biochar.  The researchers will produce biochar, a residue with potential as a soil amendment with promise in long-lasting carbon storage and improved crop production, from low temperature pyrolysis of biomass materials. The biochar will be tested for its potential to store carbon, evaluated for any growth effects on plants in the greenhouse, and assessed for economic impacts.  This research will be the first rigorous study of biochar use in agricultural soils in this state. 
Organic soil amendments — A true path to zero waste?
WSU soil scientist Craig Cogger and University of Washington researcher Sally Brown received $110,266 to team up with municipal wastewater treatment agencies to apply their expertise in composting, land application and anaerobic digestion to develop programs to divert organic materials from landfills. The goals of the project are:1) to measure the  benefits of land application of composts in regards to soil carbon storage and increased water-holding capacity, and 2) to test effects on final product quality of  soil amendments that have been manufactured from biosolids, combined with materials diverted from landfills. The intent of the project is to move toward zero waste by using the large volumes of material that are potentially suitable for land application.

Treating solid food wastes to generate biohydrogen and biodiesel Biological Systems Engineering professor Shulin Chen and research associate Zhanyou Chi were awarded $119,877 to develop a two-step process to produce biodiesel from a biological treatment of food waste. The first step of this process uses bacteria to ferment glucose derived from the organic waste to produce hydrogen and volatile fatty acids (VFA). One-third of the carbon is converted to carbon dioxide in the first-step process, while two-thirds of the carbon is converted to volatile fatty acids. In the second step, the remaining carbon in the form of VFA is used to feed carbon to algae or yeast to produce biodiesel.

Converting Washington biomass to bioethanol
Chen and research associate Zhimin Li also were awarded $119,877 to research converting organic residues consisting mainly of cellulose into ethanol and other chemicals. Green waste, straws, and forest residues are the main organic material in Washington that could support a future bio-economy. According to the biomass inventory conducted by WSU in collaboration with the Department of Ecology, the largest biomass types within the state including straws, forest residues from logging and forest thinning, and wood residue.  Converting this biomass material could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by decreasing the use of fossil fuels. Potentially, the amount of organic residues identified could produce 318 to 478 million gallons of ethanol.