Microwave treatment of municipal sewage sludge: Evaluation of the drying performance and energy demand of a pilot-scale microwave drying system

Eva Kocbek*, Hector A. Garcia, Christine M. Hooijmans, Ivan Mijatović, Branko Lah, Damir Brdjanovic

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
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Sewage sludge management and treatment can represent up to approximately 30% of the overall operational costs of a wastewater treatment plant. Microwave (MW) drying has been recognized as a feasible technology for sludge treatment. However, MW drying systems exhibit high energy expenditures due to: (i) unnecessary heating of the cavity and other components of the system, (ii) ineffective extraction of the condensate from the irradiation cavity, and (iii) an inefficient use of the microwave energy, among others issues. This study investigated the performance of a novel pilot-scale MW system for sludge drying, specifically designed addressing the shortcomings previously described. The performance of the system was assessed drying municipal centrifuged wasted activated sludge at MW output powers from 1 to 6 kW and evaluating the system's drying rates and exposure times, specific energy outputs, MW generation efficiencies, overall energy efficiencies, and specific energy consumption. The results indicated that MW drying significantly extends the duration of the constant rate drying period associated with the evaporation of the unbound sludge water, a phase associated with low energy input requirement for evaporating water. Moreover, the higher the MW output power, the higher the sludge power absorption density, and the MW generation efficiency. MW generation efficiencies of up to 70% were reported. The higher the power absorption density, the lower the chances for energy losses in the form of reflected power and/or energy dissipated into the MW system. Specific energy consumptions as low as 2.6 MJ L−1 (0.74 kWh L−1) could be achieved, well in the range of conventional thermal dryers. The results obtained in this research provide sufficient evidence to conclude that the modifications introduced to the novel pilot-scale MW system mitigated the shortcomings of existing MW systems, and that the technology has great potential to effectively and efficiently drying municipal sewage sludge.

Original languageEnglish
Article number140541
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Energy efficiency
  • Microwave generation efficiency
  • Microwave irradiation
  • Municipal sludge
  • Sludge drying
  • Specific energy consumption


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