Article Open Access

Reduced Climate Impacts of Dairy Sludge Management by Introducing Hydrothermal Carbonization

Clean Energy and Sustainability. 2023, 1(1), 10003;
Department for Biological and Chemical Engineering, Aarhus University, Hangøvej 2, 8200 Aarhus N, Denmark
Danish Technological Institute, 2630 Taastrup, Denmark
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received: 05 Jan 2023    Accepted: 28 Feb 2023    Published: 13 Mar 2023   


Dairies which produce cheese and milk products can, however, produce large volumes of wastewater that require treatment, usually via activated sludge treatment. Disposal of the resulting activated sludge to land is viewed favorably as the sludge is rich in phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) and enables nutrient recycling. Nonetheless, sludge management can significantly influence the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the atmosphere. This manuscript has modelled the GHG emissions arising from two sludge management strategies currently adopted by Danish dairies whereby: (i) sludge is stored and later applied to fields; or (ii) sludge is treated by anaerobic digestion (AD), stored, and the digestate will later be applied to fields. This is compared to (iii) an alternative sludge management strategy with treatment by Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC). HTC is a technologically simple sludge treatment that could lower the cost for dewatering dairy sludge, forming a biochar-like material known as hydrochar. The produced hydrochar can be applied to the land for the purpose of carbon sequestration, P and N recycling. Our calculations indicate that GHG balances of HTC sludge management can result in a net carbon sequestration of 63 kg CO2eq per ton sludge, as opposed to net emissions of 420 and 156 kg CO2eq per ton sludge for strategies (i) and (ii), therefore offering significant reductions GHG emissions for the dairy sector.


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