Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Singer, Simcha

Second Advisor

Allen, Casey

Third Advisor

McNamara, Patrick


Waste reduction and energy recovery have been an environmental focus. Many of these solutions involve the thermal degradation of waste, such as household garbage or organic waste. To help reduce the negative environmental impact associated with processes like incineration, methods have been developed to utilize the carbonaceous material and energy contained in waste. Wastewater treatment plants are responsible for collecting and cleaning billions of gallons of sewage and stormwater each year. The water collected goes through multiple cleaning stages before being discharged into surface water. Sewage sludge, commonly referred to as biosolids, are produced during the process. Biosolids are carbon rich particles that can be used as fertilizers. The city of Milwaukee dries its biosolids and sells them as a fertilizer called Milorganite®. Pyrolysis is a thermochemical process which involves heating an organic material in an inert atmosphere to produce gases and a char residue. Applying pyrolysis to biosolids reduces the volume of waste to be landfilled and yields three products, including high-heating value light gases (py-gas) and a carbon rich porous char (biochar) that works well as a fertilizer, similar to dried biosolids. Pyrolysis of locally-produced dried biosolids will be studied in this thesis. Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) is an experimental technique used to study thermal decomposition reactions, such as pyrolysis, by measuring the mass of a sample as a function of temperature and time. In this study, non-isothermal TGA has been used to study the pyrolysis kinetics of Milorganite®. The kinetic parameters are essential for sizing reactors to optimize the pyrolysis process. Pyrolysis of dried biosolids is modeled as a combination of independent parallel reactions. Thermogravimetric (TG) and differential thermogravimetric (DTG) data were used with a nonlinear model-fitting method to determine the activation energy, pre-exponential factor, and fractional contribution for the five major pseudo-components found in the dried biosolid. In contrast with the few existing studies using model-fitting approaches for biosolid pyrolysis kinetics, this study first fits the kinetic parameters to TG data, then employs the results as initial guesses for a second fitting process to DTG data. This technique makes for a smoother convergence process in reducing the residual between fitted and experimental data. More importantly, this study performed the fitting process for a wide range of initial guesses and found that the solver converged to the same set of kinetic parameters for 95% of the initial guesses, inspiring confidence that the kinetic parameters correspond to a global, rather than a local, minimum.

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