2017 Update From the NEBRA Research Committee


by Charles Alix (Stantec), Chair

NEBRA is dedicated to the most environmentally sound sustainable reuse of biosolids and other residuals.  To this end, it supports research into the best science based information available on these materials and their uses.

Over the past year, the members of the NEBRA Research Committee contacted the membership in a survey to determine what they feel is important for research into residuals and biosolids.  The research committee has taken the results of this survey and contacted 28 researchers throughout the Northeast who may have an interest in research in biosolids and other residuals. We are beginning to hear back from these researchers and will keep you informed of feedback. Below are the topics of most interest to NEBRA members, with a brief discussion of each.  NEBRA members are encouraged to contact the research committee at any time with any research ideas and opportunities.

Research Topics

1.  Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) / Microconstituents

In EPA’s 40 CFR Part 503 Biosolids original risk assessment, trace metals were determined to be the only potential contaminants of concern (or in need of standards) in biosolids.  Over the past several decades, the issue of trace metals in biosolids has been effectively resolved.  However, we live in a fast changing world, and the products we use on ourselves or ingest are being scrutinized more and more. NEBRA tracks the potential implications of "microconstituents" / chemicals found in biosolids and residuals.  

2.  Public Outreach

The following topic areas were identified as needing research:

a.    Social science research on public acceptance/non-acceptance: Better understanding of the public view and drivers related to residuals reuse so as to better serve the people that use these products.

b.    Further developing relationships with researchers.

c.     Understanding barriers:  What are the barriers to recovering energy?  What are the barriers to co-digestion?  There is a WERF report on “Barriers to Biogas Utilization” and some follow-on work that provides a lot of information on why professionals, regulators, etc. are not embracing biogas use as much as they might.

d.    Is there too much product in the market? With the proliferation of organics bans throughout the Northeast, what are the best reuses for these residuals?

e.     Update on the 2007 national biosolids use & disposal report:  This continues to be a goal of NEBRA, since it provides valuable information on the needs and availability of biosolids reuse products.

3.  Co-digestion

As regulations evolve both in terms of more stringent incineration regulations and regulations banning the disposal of food wastes in landfills, interest in anaerobic digestion and the potential to use these wastes is growing.  Co –digestion is often defined as the inclusion of wastes into an anaerobic digester in addition to the “base load of the digester – such as adding fats, oil and grease (FOG) or food waste slurry to a digester primarily fed municipal wastewater solids or manure.  As the need to process more organics grows, so too does the need to optimize operation of beneficial reuse technologies such as digestion which are both renewable energy sources as well as residual reuse processing facilities.

4. Keeping Regulatory Limits on Phosphorus Science Based

Concerns about phosphorus (P) contamination of surface water resources is resulting in increased regulation of farming activities and the use of P-containing fertilizers on non-agricultural turf. Biosolids and products derived from biosolids, such as pellets and composts, have been, up to this point, applied based on available nitrogen. Often these reuse products release P differently than other fertilizers. As various states develop new nutrient management regulations, the use of residuals containing P will also be regulated further and it is important that the regulations be based on science and not just blanket rules.