What's Coming in 2018?

Looking at the Market

In September 2017, Frost & Sullivan completed an analysis of the "North American Municipal Biosolids Market" and made forecasts through 2021.  They emphasized that energy recovery and add-on technologies (e.g. solids hydrolysis technologies) will drive what they estimate will be an annual rate of growth of 9.0%. The team compiling the report interviewed numerous stakeholders in the biosolids management profession, including Ned Beecher at NEBRA.  The key findings were:

  • "The North American municipal biosolids market is expected to grow from $1,696.1 million in 2016 to $2,615.1 million by 2021, recording a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.0%.
  • "Thermal hydrolysis and drying are the key processes experiencing the strongest growth. Reducing sludge volume and lowering transportation cost will drive demand.
  • "Future equipment selection will be influenced by the trends of nutrient recovery and energy recovery. Implementation will be top-down.
  • "Advanced technologies and processes will create more opportunities for companies outsourcing biosolids management to manage the complexity of the operations, driving market growth.
  • "Upgrades and rehabilitation of aging biosolids processing facilities will drive the biosolids market in the United States. It is expected to grow from $1,493.1 million in 2016 to $2,325.9 million by 2021, recording a CAGR of 9.3%.
  • "Landfill ban on organics will foster co-digestion of substrates, enabling increased biogas production and capture.
  • "The waste-to-energy initiative will drive the biosolids market in Canada. It is expected to grow from $203.0 million in 2016 to $289.2 million by 2021, recording a CAGR of 7.3%.
  • "Canada is likely to see a surge in biosolids production due to the implementation of stringent policies and awareness on biosolids as a renewal resource....
  • "Class A biosolids are becoming more of a standard as laws are becoming stricter and there is greater flexibility in their use as a finished product.
  • Except for a few national players, the biosolids outsourcing market is fragmented with strong regional players." 

None of this is surprising to those in the field, but it is good to see the market analysts get it right.

In this region, anaerobic digestion and biogas utilization continue to advance slowly, but steadily, building on recent successful commissioning of merchant facilities in Rhode Island and Connecticut (watch for announcements of a NEBRA tour at Quantum Biopower), expansion of one in Maine, and green energy at Bucklin Point.  Greater Lawrence Sanitary District will start up a new digester and 2 co-gen engines, increasing its utilization of processed food waste slurry, which has been piloted over the past year. 

Biosolids & residuals compost markets will continue with strong demand and increasing interest in soil health. (The important role of biosolids and other organic residuals in regenerative agriculture is noted in this fascinating new book by David Montgomery, a MacArthur Fellow and professor at the Univ. of Washington.) While federal leadership in addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has dwindled, states and regional efforts continue apace, with California leading the way with aggressive GHG reduction goals and a proactive healthy soils initiative in which biosolids will play an important role.

Nutrients and microconstituents will remain the leading challenges in biosolids & residuals recycling in this region. But, at the same time, like elsewhere across North America, specialized uses of highly-treated biosolids products continue to expand. High-profile EQ biosolids programs in Chicago, Seattle, and Washington continue to lead the way in integrating local products in community gardens, urban landscaping, and stormwater green infrastructure. Similar projects have been quietly advancing in the Northeast as well.

And the processing of solids in southern New England's sewage sludge incinerators will keep apace, as the market has adjusted and prices have stabilized since the 2016 challenges with new EPA air emissions regulations and incineration capacity.


Biosolids and residuals management programs continue to wrestle with nutrient management, especially phosphorus (P). 2018 will likely see further refinements and interpretations of regulatory efforts to control P application and runoff that impacts surface water quality.  Vermont and Massachusetts have recently taken the lead in aggressive actions to reduce P to Lake Champlain in particular and on farms and turf. 

The U. S. Water Alliance, whose moniker is "One Water," promoted the development of statewide nutrient reduction utilities for "addressing nutrient pollution in our nation's waters" in a report released in September 2017.  It's an interesting concept and a practical call to action. 

NEBRA continues to monitor and provide input toward ensuring that biosolids and residuals are treated in a balanced way in nutrient regulation schemes.  In particular, NEBRA proposes that regulatory agencies and policy-makers dialogue with the fertilizer industry, because reducing net importation of nutrients to our region is an ultimate, long-term solution to addressing the increasing over-abundance of P in soils.  To that end, for several years, the U. S. Composting Council and others have been engaging in discussions with AAPFCO, the group of state fertilizer regulators, to encourage consideration in policy discussions of composts and other soil amendments that contain P. Ideally, the use of such locally-produced materials will be incentivized, recycling P and other nutrients to meet fertilization needs before more P is imported into the region.

NEBRA will be represented at the 2nd Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance forum, February 27th. And NEBRA is continuing efforts to advance understanding (including potential research) on biosolids phosphorus dynamics and availability in New England, with particular focus on guidance for the plant nutrient regulations in Massachusetts.


2017 was the year that public awareness of poly- and perfluorinated compounds (PFAS) mushroomed - in the Northeast especially. Leading the headlines were industrially-contaminated sites in Hoosick Falls, NY; Bennington, VT; and Merrimack and Pease Tradeport, NH. State efforts to establish safe drinking water standards led to legislative and regulatory agency debates and investigations to understand the extent and significance of PFAS contamination and potential human health impacts. PFAS are being found in many, many places. As 2018 begins, this topic continues to grow. New funding from Congress will be helping the Department of Defense address PFAS contamination around military sites across the nation. But there remain many uncertainties about the level of health impacts, the fate and transport of PFAS in the environment,  mitigation options, and even analytical capabilities for measuring various PFAS in media other than drinking water.  In some instances, regulatory reactions are outpacing the level of scientific knowledge.

Since the beginning of 2017, NEBRA has been tracking the PFAS concerns with relation to biosolids and residuals management, proactively working to advance understanding. A research effort proposed by NEBRA is likely to begin at the University of New Hampshire in the first quarter of 2018.  NEBRA members have access to guidance on sampling and analysis of PFAS in biosolids and residuals and associated media, as well as a fact sheet and other information at the "members only" web-page (click to it from https://www.nebiosolids.org) and/or by contacting the NEBRA office. 

Training & Outreach


Expertise in biosolids management has been leaving the field - retiring - at an increasing rate.  As noted in NEBRA news, four career-long experts on biosolids science and management have left key regulatory agencies affecting the Northeast in the past year. In this region, the balance of biosolids knowledge continues to shift even more heavily into the private sector.  University and regulatory agency knowledge is more limited than at any time.

In response, NEBRA continues to step up training by collaborating with the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) and state wastewater groups that have established training schedules and systems. NEBRA is once again helping NEIWPCC with the annual sewage sludge incinerator (SSI) operator training in March, as well as a new "Biosolids & Residuals 301" class that provides practical knowledge and guidance to solids managers on the latest technical topics, including PFAS and nutrient management. NEBRA workshops are posted on the Events page. Contact NEBRA to arrange specialized training for your program.

NEBRA is also exploring options for advancing academic knowledge of biosolids and residuals management through occasional or, better yet, ongoing funding of local research and demonstration projects.

Even as education advances within the biosolids & residuals management profession, NEBRA encourages its members to advance proactive outreach to the media and public.  Contact the NEBRA office to collaborate on outreach in 2018.  How about hosting open houses, field days, and tours?  Let's make sure our communities are aware of all the good work done for water quality and soil health.

Legislation and Regulation

2018 is an election year, which means politics will be ever-present, potentially even having some impacts in the biosolids & residuals management world. In Vermont, one vocal citizen concerned about septage and biosolids applications to soils is running for Governor. In New Hampshire, the state representative who has led public concerns about PFAS is running for U. S. Congress.  In both states, there are several bills filed that could have impacts on biosolids & residuals management.

NEBRA anticipates a busy legislative season.