(583em) A Prototype Reactor for Pyrolysis of Human Waste to Biochar With Concentrated Solar Power

Fisher, R. P., University of Colorado
Lewandowski, A., National Renewable Energy Lab
Yacob, T. W., University of Colorado at Boulder
Mahoney, R. B., University of Colorado at Boulder
Mejic, D., University of Colorado at Boulder
Oversby, C., University of Colorado at Boulder
Beck, S., University of Colorado at Boulder
Kearns, J., University of Colorado at Boulder
Ward, B. J., University of Colorado at Boulder
Summers, R. S., University of Colorado
Linden, K. G., University of Colorado at Boulder
Weimer, A. W., University of Colorado Boulder

Currently, 2.6 billion people on the planet do not have access to adequate sanitation and many communities in the developing world have neither the facilities nor the resources to properly treat human waste, leading to open defecation posing enormous public health risks as well as issues related to individual dignity and safety. Sanitation is not a problem unique to developing countries – modern sanitation processes are also unsustainable due to their often massive requirements for energy and water. The Sol-Char Toilet, a solar waste treatment technology developed at the University of Colorado Boulder, takes advantage of our most abundant renewable resource: the sun. In the Sol-Char Toilet, concentrated solar power (CSP) is transmitted through fiber optic cables to drive pyrolysis of human waste, converting a hazardous and unusable material to biochar. Biochar is a carbonized solid product of thermal biomass decomposition consisting largely of condensed aromatic zones that when applied as a soil amendment imparts agronomic benefits and is recalcitrant over a long timescale (102 – 103 years).  Biochar presents a solution relevant to the world today: reducing greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering carbon in biochar for several hundreds of years or even millennia. The over-reaching goal of the project is to develop a cost-effective, self-contained, and sustainable sanitation process by which human waste can be converted to useful products without connection to water, sewer or electricity.

Sunlight is concentrated to nearly 2000 Suns by a parabolic mirror, directed into a fiber optic bundle, and routed to a solar hood that directly irradiates a pyrolysis reactor. Two identical reactor vessels are switched between a pyrolysis location under the solar hood and a toilet location via a rotating carousel mechanism, thus achieving a semi-continuous pyrolysis process during daylight hours. The Sol-Char Toilet prototype represents a novel application of CSP to the areas of environmental, sanitation, and reaction engineering. This presentation will focus on the design and operation of the 1 kW Sol-Char Toilet prototype designed and constructed at the University of Colorado at Boulder.