Dan Spracklin, founder and CEO of SoMax Bioenergy, began working with Villanova University’s Sustainable Engineering program in 2014 as a member of the RISE Forum. RISE— Resilient Innovation through Sustainable Engineering—is a Villanova Sustainable Engineering leadership consortium dedicated to advancing the field of corporate sustainability through the discipline of engineering. Through the program, Spracklin sponsored several Sustainable Engineering master’s thesis graduate students. With primary faculty advising from Dr. Ross Lee, professor of practice, Sustainable Engineering, and co-advising from several other faculty members from Chemical and Civil and Environmental Engineering as well as Biology, this worked help his company develop an elemental recycling platform. Its purpose is to produce hydro-char—clean coal that can be combusted with zero net carbon emissions—as well as nutrient rich liquid fertilizer from manure and other waste materials.
Given the earth’s nearly limitless supply of biomass materials (i.e., food waste, biosolids and agricultural waste), there is vast potential for this new platform. Each year, nearly three billion tons of organic matter are generated in urban environments in the US alone—85% of which typically ends up in landfills, wasting valuable resources. Through this platform of technologies, SoMax takes biological material and converts it into useful forms based on its elemental composition. From there, Spracklin says, “We’re intending to separate them and repurpose those elements.” Repurposing involves replenishing soils by returning nutrients to America’s farmlands. Other potential uses include developing renewable energy and even providing clean water.
SoMax is one of eight competitively-selected participants in the nationwide Manure Challenge presented by the Yield Lab Institute in St. Louis, Mo. Their mission is “an expedited pathway to circular farm systems” with a goal to help scale commercial solutions so that farmers across the world can more effectively manage waste. Throughout the yearlong competition, companies have been paired with mentors who represent a range of stakeholders with different expertise related to manure management, the dairy industry, agricultural markets, business development, marketing and environmental conservation. In early 2020, participants will pitch their solutions to investors and industry stakeholders and a judging panel will select the winner(s).
Meanwhile, Spracklin says that the company is in the design and build phase of implementing its technologies at a wastewater treatment plant in the Philadelphia area. He notes, “This will be the first implementation of this technology in the US—actually in the western hemisphere.” Dr. Lee adds, “Our relationship with Somax started with Dan Spracklin’s vision in 2015 that ‘there must be a better way to handle waste’ and we are so excited to have been a part of this collaboration that is on the verge of making the first commercial hydrothermal conversion facility happen in the US.”
Dan Spracklin was interviewed about SoMax Bioenergy and the Manure Challenge on KMOX-AM in St. Louis.