Using hydrothermal carbonization for sustainable treatment and reuse of human excreta

Reut Yahav Spitzer, Vivian Mau, Amit Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Poor sanitation due to improper treatment of human excreta, and energy scarcity are global problems with only partial solutions. Thus, feasible conversion of human excreta into safe, reusable “products” and renewable energy could be advantageous. The research objectives were to study the properties and major chemical processes occurring during hydrothermal carbonization of raw human excreta with typical solids content, as well as exploring potential use of the resulting hydrochar and aqueous phase. Human excreta (often considered as black water) were hydrothermally carbonized in a set of nine 50-mL laboratory batch reactors under a range of severities, a single parameter obtained from a coalification model that represents the combination of temperature and time. Three temperatures (180, 210 and 240 °C) and reaction times (30, 60 and 120 min) were used. The physicochemical characteristics such as yield, elemental composition, organic matter and calorific value of the hydrochar (solid phase) were studied. Aqueous phase was characterized for carbon, nitrogen, macro and micronutrients composition. In addition, the potential use of the hydrochar and aqueous phase were studied. There was high correlation between severity factor and carbon content (R2 = 0.95) and calorific value (R2 = 0.89). Hydrochar yield decreased with increasing severity from 69 to 56%. Calorific values increased from 24.7 to 27.6 MJ/kg, falling within the calorific range of sub-bituminous coal. The aqueous phase demonstrated high nitrogen concentration, reaching up to 8178 mg/L total nitrogen, while N:P:K ratios were similar to those of commercial fertilizers. Pilot scale experiments resembled the results found in laboratory scale experiments for both hydrochar and aqueous phase and fitted the regression curves obtained from the severity factor. It is postulated that hydrothermal carbonization of human excreta could potentially serve as a sustainable sanitation technology with a closed-loop cycle approach while recovering energy and nutrients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)955-963
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
StatePublished - 20 Dec 2018


  • Black water
  • Human excreta
  • Hydrothermal carbonization
  • Liquid fertilizer
  • Sanitation technology
  • Solid biofuel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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