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Dixon interested in new technology for wastewater treatment facility

Presentation made to City Council

DIXON – Dixon wants to take a closer look at a new potential use for its wastewater treatment facility.

Lance Schideman, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois, gave a presentation to the City Council about a pilot plant that could turn the city's wastewater into algae, which could then be turned into oil.

In December, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory said its researchers had turned algae into crude oil.

Mayor Jim Burke said the city has interest in bringing a pilot plant with the technology to Dixon, but would have to meet with the federal or state levels of the Environmental Protection Agency to move forward.

"This is a great concept," Burke said. "If this works, I mean, I cannot believe that the state wouldn't want to jump in on this thing and take the lead in the country."

State funding could also be needed for the city to move forward, Burke said.

Commissioner Colleen Brechon supported further discussions.

"If it weren't for the political and financial hoops that you have to jump through for stuff like this, I would be on this [quickly]," she said.

Schideman spoke to the City Council on via speakerphone, placed in front of the council table, while he controlled the presentation from his office at U of I. 

The proposed system, Schideman said, begins the same as the current wastewater treatment facility by separating the liquid from the solid. It then uses a process called hydrothermal liquefaction.

"Basically, [you're] pressure cooking those solids, and you can convert them to biocrude oil," Schideman said, "following the same process that Mother Nature went through to make petroleum in the first place."

Additionally, at the point in the a regular wastewater treatment facility when the water would be aerated, which Schideman said uses a lot of energy, a change in the system can produce algae.

"If we add sunlight and [carbon dioxide], instead of adding oxygen with the conventional wastewater treatment process, we can grow algae," he said. "That algae can be separated, and it can be brought back and turned into oil as well, through the hydrothermal liquefaction process."

Schideman used Champaign-Urbana, populated by about 120,000 people, to put into perspective the impact the technology could have.

Champaign-Urbana's population produces about 20 tons of dry biowaste every day, Schideman said, and if that was converted into algae, it would come to about 60 to 200 dry tons a day.

"And then if that were converted into oil, that would be about 150 to 800 barrels of oil a day," he said. "... That's not quite the full oil use of Champaign-Urbana on a daily basis, but I can tell you that the value of that oil is greater than the entire city budget for Urbana, if you were to produce that each and every day."

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