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Organics Management

Energy & Nutrient Recovery

Generator used to produce energy from methane.


Bioenergy means creating renewable energy from organic materials. There are many innovative technologies for turning organic materials into energy. View the following sites to learn more.
  • Anaerobic Digesters are becoming more common in Washington. Currently, they are primarily associated with dairies and waste water treatment operations (most commonly for municipal waste water and some food processing wastewater). As technology continues to improve, we may see more digesters processing food waste.
  • Biochar. According to the International Biochar Initiative, biochar is a "2,000 year-old practice that converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security and discourage deforestation."
  • BioEnergy Washington
  • Pacific Region Bioenergy Partnership. Their library has an extensive set of reports on biomass energy. In addition, the WSU Extension library contains resource reports and information.


The Beyond Waste Organics Initiative recognizes the value of using organic wastes as resources. These resources become feedstocks for new products and processes that create fuel and electricity, chemicals, carbon, and nutrients for soils. Ecology has funded research on feedstock availability, location, characteristics, and processing technologies. These efforts help Washington move excess organic materials beyond waste and into products, fuel, and electricity

Ecology began conducting research in 2003 through Washington State University's Biological Systems Engineering and Agricultural Economics Departments. Biomass to fuels projects have also been completed within the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington. Reports are available on the W2R publications page. Click on the year (top bar) and a browse list will come up.

Anaerobic Digester
Biomass to Fuel
Compost and Biosolids

Anaerobic Digester

June 2009
Producing Energy and Fertilizer from Organic Municipal Solid Waste: Enhancing Hydrolysis and Bacterial Populations and Mixing and Thermodynamic Modeling of New Solid Waste Treatment Technology, Ecology Publication Number 09-07-064. Usama Zaher, Shulin Chen, Chenlin Li, Liang Yu, and Timothy Ewing.

This project developed, tested and modeled a high solids anaerobic digester consisting of a solids reactor and a leached liquids up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket for reacting volatile fatty acids. At near neutral pH the system improves methane production 50% over existing digesters, while return flow reseeds the solids digester with high titer micro-organisms that improved biological kinetics. The dual reactors system provides for control of digester limiting acid and ammonia processes, while allowing for nutrient recovery, and significantly improves performance for capital outlay.

June 2007
Producing Energy and Fertilizer From Organic Municipal Solid Waste, Ecology Publication Number 11-07-017, Usama Zaher, Dae-Yeol Cheong, Binxin Wu, and Shulin Chen.
A literature review of current digester technologies formed the framework for designing a bench scale study of a high solids anaerobic digestion (HSAD) system. The study shows that significant improvements in methane production can be attained while decreasing capital costs for facilities. A new digester design is proposed that will optimize methane from organic food and green waste digestion, while recovering nutrients from the digestate.

Biomass to Fuel

September 2009
Biodiesel and Biohydrogen Co-Production with Treatment of High Solid Food Waste, Ecology Publication Number 09-07-065. Yubin Zheng, Jingwei Ma, Zhanyou Chi, and Shulin Chen.

A two-step process was developed as a potential technology to produce hydrogen and biodiesel from food waste. The first process use fermentative bacteria to breakdown glucose from food waste to produce hydrogen and volatile fatty acids (VFA). The VFA are then fed to yeast for simultaneous carbon sequestration resulting in production of biodiesel from the oil-producing microbial biomass.

September 2009
Converting Washington Lignocellulosic Rich Urban Waste to Ethanol, Ecology Publication Number 09-07-060. Rick Gustafson, Renata Bura, Joyce Cooper, Ryan McMahon, Elliott Schmitt, and Azra Vajzovic.

This study investigated the potential of producing ethanol from three primary sources: mixed waste paper, yard trimmings, and a laboratory prepared mixture (50/50 food & paper) representing municipal solid waste (MSW). Pretreatment consisted of dilute acid hydrolysis (mixed paper and MSW), and steam explosion (yard waste). Ethanol yields of 105, 90 and 55 gal/ton were found for the MSW, mixed paper, and yard waste. A preliminary Life Cycle Assessment showed that overall environmental impacts of ethanol production from MSW are highly beneficial compared to landfill. Conversion of the MSW mixture to ethanol was found to be economically viable.

September 2009
The Next Step for Biomass Energy Development in Clallam County, Ecology Publication Number 09-07-067. Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development, Institute for Washington's Future, and Northwest Cooperative Development Center.

New technologies allow us to harness the energy in animal and plant biomass to generate electricity and fuel vehicles. The energy derived from biomass resources that are produced and harvested sustainably is considered renewable. This report is a primer on biomass power for Clallam County and funding opportunities.

September 2009
New Bio-refinery Concept to Convert Softwood Bark to Transportation Fuels Final Report to the Washington State Department of Ecology, Ecology Publication Number 09-07-061. Manuel Garcia-Perez, Shulin Chen, Shuai Zhou, Zhouhong Wang, Jieni Lian, Robert Lee Johnson, Shi-Shen Liaw and Oisik Das.

This project tested a new pretreatment concept to enhance the production of sugars from the fast pyrolysis of wood and straw. It proved that sugars recovered from pyrolysis can be easily converted into ethanol. These two results are important because they show that fast pyrolysis of wood or straw followed by bio-oil hydro-treatment can create green gasoline and diesel (from lignin), as well as ethanol (from cellulose).

September 2009
Waste to Fuels Technology: Evaluating Three Technology Options and the Economics for Converting Biomass to Fuels, Ecology Publication Number 09-07-058. Hayk Khachatryan, Ken Casavant, and Eric Jessup, Jie Chen, Shulin Chen, and Craig Frear.

This study further investigated biomass from the 2005 biomass inventory by comparing three fuel technologies: cellulosic biomass conversion by fermentation for ethanol, or gasification for mixed-alcohols, and anaerobic digestion of high volatile solids biomass for methane production. The study then integrated the major cost factors: biomass availability, feedstock prices, transportation costs, processing costs, and geographic distribution into a comprehensive model framework using Geographic Information System and MATLAB-SIMULINK models, to assess final delivered fuel cost.

June 2007
Biomass Inventory Technology and Economics Assessment -- Report 1. Characteristics of Biomass, Ecology Publication Number 07-07-025. Wei Liao, Craig Frear and Shulin Chen.

This project was a literature search for biomass chemical characterization and conducted supplemental laboratory study of 42 feedstocks for 33 parameters such as dry matter, chemical oxygen demand, carbohydrates, lipids, elemental and mineral matter, and standard properties such as protein, fiber, pH, etc. A follow-up report will group similar feedstocks, assess potential energy conversion technologies and conduct an economic analysis of feedstock collection and energy production.

December 2005
Biomass Inventory and Bioenergy Assessment: An Evaluation of Organic Material Resources for Bioenergy Production in Washington State, Ecology Publication Number 05-07-047. Craig Frear, Bingcheng Zhao, Guobin Fu, Michael Richardson, Shulin Chen, and Mark Fuchs.

A biomass inventory and bioenergy assessment of 45 organic resource types across Washington was completed, resulting in this report and a database with GIS maps. The database is available on the Pacific Region Bioenergy Partnership website. Annual production of over 16.4 million tons of underutilized bone dry biomass was found, capable of producing (by combustion or anaerobic digestion) over 15.5 billion kilo-watt hours of electrical energy.

October 2003
Bioenergy Inventory and Assessment for Eastern Washington, Ecology Publication Number 03-07-021. Shulin Chen, Craig Frear, BingCheng Zhao, and Guobin Fu.

This Phase 1 project assessed Eastern Washington's 20 counties for available biomass and calculated the potential energy production from 24 organic resource types. Annual production of 4.3 million tons of underutilized dry biomass was found.

Compost and Biosolids

March 2010
Land Application-a true path to zero waste? Ecology Publication Number 09-07-059. Kate Kurtz, Sally Brown, Craig Cogger and Andy Bary.

This study tested the benefits of recycling organic residuals to soils. Sites having previously received one or more biosolids and compost applications were sampled. Soil carbon and nitrogen were found to be higher, while soil density (compaction) decreased with the organic amendments. Soil water holding capacity was improved in over half the sites. Amendments turned into the soil rather than left on the surface further boosted the benefits. The amendments also increased crop yields over conventional fertilizer.

September 2009
Creating High Value Potting Media from Composts Made with Biosolids and Carbon-Rich Organic Wastes, Ecology Publication Number 09-07-069. Rita Hummel, Craig Cogger, Andy Bary, and Bob Riley.

Composted organic waste including biosolids may substitute for potting soil for nursery uses. This study found that composted organic materials can perform as well as typical peat-perlite potting mixtures.

September 2009
Sierra Heights Vermicomposter Project, Ecology Publication Number 09-07-066. Sierra Heights Elementary.

A vermicompost bin was set up at the school. The project developed and put into practice a set of lessons (available at the link in the document) for teaching about food waste and composting.


April 2011
Methods for Producing Biochar and Advanced Biofuels in Washington State Part 1: Literature Review of Pyrolysis Reactors, Ecology Publication Number 11-07-017, Garcia-Perez M., T. Lewis, C. E. Kruger.

This is the first of a series of reports exploring the use of biomass thermochemical conversion technologies to produce energy, fuels and industrial chemicals and sequester carbon in biochar. The report conducts a comprehensive review of historical pyrolysis reactors and technologies including criteria to select a reactor type, reviews of historical kilns, retorts, converters and current fast pyrolysis designs, vehicle gassifiers, and a brief introduction on environmental and safety concerns for woody biomass pyrolysis.

September 2009
Use of Biochar from the Pyrolysis of Waste Organic Material as a Soil Amendment, Ecology Publication Number 09-07-062. David Granatstein, Chad Kruger, Hal Collins, Manuel Garcia-Perez, and Jonathan Yoder.

Biochars from different feedstocks were tested on five soils. Biochars on all soil types increased soil carbon. Biochar carbon was stable in soil with mean residence times estimated in the hundreds of years. Soil nitrate levels were reduced with increasing biochar rate, perhaps due to ammonium adsorption. Biochar did not accelerate loss of indigenous organic matter through the 'priming effect.' Biochars raised soil pH, but did not lead to consistent plant growth improvements.

June 2008
The Formation of Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons and Dioxins During Pyrolysis:
A Review of the Literature with Descriptions of Biomass Composition, Fast Pyrolysis Technologies and Thermochemical Reactions
, Washington State University, Manuel Garcia-Perez.

It is clear that any new thermochemical processing technologies must represent clean processes. To examine whether the production of bio-oils and biochar could generate polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and dioxins during pyrolysis processes, a global literature review was conducted. The processing method for recovering energy, fuel and products from organic waste can have detrimental impacts such as odors and emissions from compost yards. This report also contains laboratory data on PAH and dioxins within biochar and bio-oil produced at the laboratory.