Overcoming microplastics induced inhibition on waste-to-energy conversion

October 5th, 2022

R&D Focus Areas:
Biological hydrogen production, Biomass and waste conversion

Lead Organisation:
University of Technology Sydney

The University of Queensland


Start date:
January 2022

Completion date:
December 2024

Key contacts:
Professor Bing-Jie Ni: bingjie.ni@uts.edu.au
Dr. Wei Wei. Email: wei.wei@uts.edu.au

Australian Research Council (Discovery Projects)

Project total cost:

Project summary description:
Hydrogen is considered as a promising green energy alternative to fossil fuels. Biological hydrogen production is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly method to produce hydrogen from varieties of organic wastes (e.g., sewage sludge) due to the simple operational conditions, steady hydrogen yield and low energy consumption.

This project aims to develop an innovative technology and the underpinning science to achieve stable and efficient mitigation of emerging microplastics induced inhibition that is becoming a key barrier hindering waste-to-energy conversion in biological hydrogen production. Anaerobic fermentation is a low-cost technology widely used to divert sewage sludge, biowastes or wastewater to renewable hydrogen production.

However, the increasing levels of microplastics captured in sludge and wastewater leads to low hydrogen yield and process failure due to their small size and specific characteristics. The outcome of the project would be to remove this emerging barrier and to enhance hydrogen recovery from wastes that can be applied in existing anaerobic fermentation infrastructure for addressing Australia’s increasing energy demand.

Related publications and key links:

  1. Wei, W., Zhang, Y.T., Wang, C., Guo, W., Ngo, H.H., Chen, X., Ni, B.J. (2022) Responses of anaerobic hydrogen-producing granules to acute microplastics exposure during biological hydrogen production from wastewater. Water Research, 220, 118680.
  2. Zhang, Y.T., Wei, W., Wang, C., Ni, B.J. (2022) Microbial and physicochemical responses of anaerobic hydrogen-producing granular sludge to polyethylene micro (nano) plastics. Water Research, 221, 118745.
  3. Zhang, Y.T., Wei, W., Wang, C., Ni, B.J. (2022) Understanding and Mitigating the Distinctive Stresses Induced by Diverse Microplastics on Anaerobic Hydrogen-Producing Granular Sludge. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 440, 129771.
  4. Wang, C., Wei, W., Chen, Z., Wang, Y., Chen, X., Ni, B.J. (2022) Polystyrene microplastics and nanoplastics distinctively affect anaerobic sludge treatment for hydrogen and methane production. Science of The Total Environment, 850, 158085.
  5. Wang, Y., Wei, W., Dai, X., Ni, B.J. (2022) Corncob ash boosts fermentative hydrogen production from waste activated sludge. Science of The Total Environment, 807, 151064.
  6. Wei, W., Shi, X., Wu, L., Ni, B.J. (2021) Insights into coconut shell incineration bottom ash mediated microbial hydrogen production from waste activated sludge. Journal of Cleaner Production, 322, 129157.
  7. Fu, Q., Wang, D., Li, X., Yang, Q., Xu, Q., Ni, B.J., Wang, Q., Liu, X. (2021) Towards hydrogen production from waste activated sludge: Principles, challenges and perspectives. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 135, 110283.

Higher degree studies supported:
Two PhD students at University of Technology Sydney are supported by this project.


October 2022