This Spanish company found a way to produce a fuel without emitting CO2 – and it’s made of sewage


[Reading level: C1 – Advanced]

The European Commision has pledged that the EU will cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.


Realistically, everyone will need to get stuck in to actually hit that target but at the moment, the prospects don’t look fantastic: to halt climate change, the UN has said “unprecedented change” will be required, both on a social and on a global level.


However, Spanish company Ingelia may have the key to at least part of the solution: after developing an industrial process to produce a biocarbon called “biochar” which can be used as a much cleaner energy source to traditional coal.


A report prepared by the UN body for climate change has called for ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’. – Một báo cáo do cơ quan LHQ chuẩn bị cho biến đổi khí hậu đã kêu gọi “những thay đổi nhanh chóng, sâu rộng và chưa từng có trong tất cả các khía cạnh của xã hội”.

Ten years ago, Marisa Hernández, along with two other partners at Ingelia, managed to develop an industrial process capable of converting organic waste (such as sewage and compost) into biochar.


The resulting product works and burns like coal but, most interestingly, has much less of the residual pollutants when produced: despite having the same potential in energy production as standard coal, its production process has a zero CO2 emission rate, as well as a considerably lower production of harmful wastes such as nitrogen, sulfur, and chlorine.


From sewage and compost to viable fuel – Từ nước thải và phân trộn đến nhiên liệu hữu dụng

“Under specific pressure and temperature conditions, 20 bars and 200ºC, we dehydrate the organic matter and siphon off the humid matter in liquid form,” explained the CEO. “In other words, we concentrate 95% of the carbon in the waste.”


During Ingelia’s thermochemical conversion process (known as hydrothermal carbonisation), harmful wastes such as nitrogen, sulfur, and chlorine are, for the most part, siphoned off in the residual liquid. The result, after an eight-hour process, is a solid, dry, cylindrical material that could replace fossil-derived carbon fuel.


Ingelia treats waste matter such as sewage with high pressure and heat to produce its biochar fuel. – Ingelia xử lý chất thải như nước thải bằng áp suất và nhiệt độ cao để sản xuất nhiên liệu than sinh học.

The co-founder also noted that bad smells produced as a byproduct of the composting process are avoided by containing the treatment of the waste matter in a closed tank, allowing plants to be situated closer to population centres.


“It has the same calorific value and combustion structure,” said Hernández. She added: “Compared with a standard composting or a biogas plant where the process takes around 30 days, the timescale for our method is as little as eight hours.”


From small beginnings in Valencia to international expansion – Từ những khởi đầu nhỏ ở Valencia đến việc mở rộng ra quốc tế

Hernández’ determination earned the Ingelia co-founder and CEO a nomination in the Women’s category for the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) awards.


The company has already outsourced this process to their waste plants in Spain, the UK and Italy. In fact, Italy’s largest sewage manager has also implemented the process in their Tuscany plant where they treat 80,000 tons of sewage per year and the Belgian town of Oostende too is set to have a plant that treats 20,000 tons of organic waste matter with four reactors.


Marisa Hernández, co-founder of Ingelia. – Bà Marisa Hernández, đồng sáng lập của Ingelia

The company closed 2017 with a turnover of $2.29 million and $3.44 million at the end of last year. The real spike is set to take place next year. Ingelia expects to reach $28.4 million in turnover in 2019 and up to $107 million for 2022.


Energy, batteries and biopolymers – Năng lượng, pin và biopolyme

The solution this Spanish company has put forward is a way of storing renewable energy in the form of biomass, however it isn’t just that; this biochar has other applications too.


It could be used to work batteries, or even to produce specific materials such as biopolymers, possibly for producing plastics or perhaps as substitutes for peat in soil enrichment.


“With our process, by 2022 we’d be able to replace 220,000 tons of coal per year and avoid the emission of half a million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere,” said the CEO, adding that the company was planning to capture 3% of the European waste management market.






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