• Period | 2019 - 2022
  • Country |
  • Market | Geotechnics and Environment
  • Project Manager | Gerard Cornelissen
  • Partner | Lindum, VEAS, Vesar, Scanship, Mivanor, Clairs, SINTEF ER
  • Client | The Research Council of Norway
R&D program|

VOW - Valorization of Organic Waste

The main objective of the VOW project (Valorization of Organic Waste into Sustainable Products for Clean-up of Contaminated Water, Soil, and Air) is to use biological waste to create sustainable products for soil, air and wastewater treatment. VOW is one of five projects funded in the 50-million NOK call by the Research Council of Norway on joint industry projects in sustainable development (BIA-Bærekraft).

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Norway generates 1.2 mill tonnes per year of various biological waste types, such as waste timber, garden waste, forestry residues, food waste and sewage sludge. These waste types are often contaminated with pollutants and microplastic particles.

The VOW project is centered around so-called pyrolysis, combustion without oxygen. This generates "engineered charcoal" of the biological waste: biochar. The high temperature of pyrolysis, above 600 C, destroys microplastics and pollutants in the wastes. Biochar has the important property that it also can bind chemicals very strongly, and thus remove them from air, waste water and soil.

The biochar, especially after special treatments, could thus carry high value as a binder for cleaning of other waste, soil, air and water. Leaching, emissions and environmental risk of chemicals would be reduced. Another important benefit of biochar is carbon storage, combatting climate change, and adding to the sustainability of the process.

Main objective

The main objective in this project is to use biological waste to create sustainable products for soil, air and wastewater treatment. The sustainable biochar sorbents will be optimized and tested in real-world contamination scenarios. Income will be generated through clean, valuable, internationally saleable biochar-based binders.

Samlebilde 800

Lightly contaminated waste types investigated in the project (all photos: NGI). From top left to right and down:
1 - Waste timber, 2 - Forestry and park waste, 3 - Measuring emissions from a high-tech pyrolysis unit, 4 - Making biochar from Lindum waste timber, 5 (second row left) - Biochar from waste timber and activated biochar from waste timber, 6 - Sewage sludge, 7 - Waste timber and park waste biochar, 8 - Project leader Gerard Cornelissen (NGI), 9 - Our Swiss partner Nikolas Hagemann and his biochar unit.

Outcomes and impacts

The project will result in a novel, globally applicable value chain around sorbents made from organic waste. Today organic waste recycling involves high costs, especially when the waste is contaminated. Pyrolysis produces clean sorbent products with positive market value. On top of this come climate benefits: pyrolyzing 1.2 mill tonnes/y organic waste in Norway would offset the GHG emissions of 200 000 people.

Biochar sorbents allow companies to make sustainable choices in their business activities. Climate and environment-friendly biochar sorbents would replace non-sustainable, fossil activated carbon, and may be traded internationally for up to 40000 NOK per tonne for use in water and air treatment. However, the range of application of biochar sorbents would be much larger, including soil and waste treatment: lower leaching from contaminated soil and waste would reduce costs and environmental impact of landfilling. This would result in huge global environmental and social benefits.

Further information (only in Norwegian)

Period |

The VOW consortium consists of actively collaborating, socially responsible, strong partners experienced in industrial innovation projects. The project budget is 21 mill. NOK, of which 10 mill. is funded by the Research Council of Norway and the remainder by our industry partners.

The consortium

VOW consortium members 800

Consortium representatives, first row: Erlend Sørmo (NGI), Karen Ane Skjennum (Lindum), second row, from left to right: Per Carlsson (SINTEF ER), Gorm Thune (Lindum), Jon Stiansen (Clairs), Gerard Cornelissen (NGI), Hans Peter Arp (NGI). Back row, left to right: Gudny Okkenhaug (NGI), Anders Are (Mivanor), Pål Jahre Nilsen, Scanship), Thomas Hartnik (Lindum), Andreas Smebye (NGI), Åsgeir Wien (Scanship).

The consortium consists of waste- and sewage handling companies (Lindum, VEAS, Vesar), a technology provider (Scanship) with a network of waste producers (the cruise and aquaculture industry), and end users in both soil treatment (Lindum), water treatment (Mivanor) and gas/odor treatment (Clairs).

Lindum will provide waste timber, garden waste as well as digestate and reject from their biogas plant. Lindum will also facilitate the use of designer biochar in stabilizing contaminated waste before landfilling or for in situ and ex situ treatment of contaminated soil.

Vesar will be working with pyrolysis of garden waste, reject which is separated from food waste before treatment in the biogas plant, and biorest, a fiber-rich fraction that remains after biogas formation.
VEAS, with NGI, will evaluate the net benefit of valorizing contaminated sewage sludge containing microplastics and persistent pollutants. Scanship has recently set up an operative pilot-scale pyrolyzer unit. The knowledge from this unit will be used in the project and serve as a template for the full-scale unit to be established at Lindum.

Mivanor will be responsible for small-scale testing of biochar sorbents in their rotating packed bed reactor, with the aim of improving the effectiveness of their current flocculation-based wastewater treatment technology.

Lindum’s subsidiary company, Clairs will study the use of designer biochar in air filters and in relevant industry projects.

Project leader NGI will design the sorbent materials, test the sorbent properties and quantify contents and availability of contaminants before and after pyrolysis.

Technical University of Denmark (DTU), with NGI, will evaluate environmental impacts in an LCA. NGI, Lindum and VEAS will collaborate to carry out the socio-economic analyses. SINTEF Energy Research AS (SINTEF ER) will perform well controlled, small-scale pyrolysis experiments using the feedstocks considered in the project.

SINTEF ER will also work closely with Scanship to transfer small scale findings to a larger scale in the Scanship reactor. During the larger scale experiments SINTEF ER and Scanship will work as a team to mitigate scale-up issues.

The consortium has three other international collaborators, each adding unique expertise. Agroscope, the Swiss soil research institute, is the global leader on biochar modification for optimal binding of organic pollutants. University of Florida hold the same position in the field of biochars modification for metal binding as well as biochar characterization. Hunan University provides access to cost-effective and high-tech biochar characterization techniques, as well as to field sites appropriate for in situ testing of the biochar sorbents.

Project consortium and roles

Project consortium and roles



Overall project management
will be by Prof. Gerard Cornelissen (NGI) and Dr. Thomas Hartnik (Lindum), assisted by Cathrine Eckbo (NGI). Erlend Sørmo (NGI) will take his PhD degree in the realm of the project, at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU).

NGI - Norwegian Geotechnical Institute
is Norway's leading institute on sorbent amendments for environmental remediation, and has previously led two BIA projects on this topic: "Active" on contaminated soil, and "Opticap" on contaminated sediment. NGI is currently carrying out an internally financed project "Geo Resources in a Circular Economy" in collaboration with Lindum. NGI is an international pioneer on the topic of biochar with earlier projects in Norway (FriPro, 217918), Nepal, Indonesia (Klimaforsk, 243789; NorGlobal, 203901) and Zambia (Norad-financed). NGI is world-leading on bioavailability of organic compounds and metals in the environment, and recently developed the first method to quantify microplastic in environmental samples.

Lindum AS 
is one of Norway’s leading players in the treatment and recycling of organic and inorganic waste, as well as contaminated soil. The company has a long tradition for R&D and innovation within the circular economy and works on sustainable utilization of resources in waste streams. Lindum's main goal is to market recycle biological waste fractions into high quality products in order to maximise environmental and economic benefit. Currently Lindum performs various projects to study how industrial waste can be used for stabilisation of pollutants in contaminated soil and waste. Lindums subsidiary Clairs (http://clairs.no/) develops odor and air treatment solutions for industrial applications.

Scanship AS
develops solutions for half of the 5 million tonnes of organic waste (food, paper, packaging) produced by the global cruise industry. The company is at the forefront of the development of pyrolysis technologies, with their operative pilot plant equipped with a microwave-assisted energy-effective heating unit, capable of reaching the high temperatures required to make high-quality sorbent materials.

is Norway’s largest wastewater treatment plant, serving over 600 000 people in the Oslo area and producing 14 000 tonnes of sludge dry matter annually. In addition to contributing to a clean Oslofjord, the treatment process produces VEAS-soil, a bio-fertilizer containing lime, nitrogen fertilizer, and biogas. VEAS has an ambition of becoming a key player in developing sustainable and circular solutions that will result in zero discharge to air, water and soil from their treatment plant, while at the same time producing profitable products from the sewage input. An optimised pyrolysis process could be a key component in fulfilling these ambitions.

Mivanor AS  
offers innovative and high-quality solutions for treating polluted wastewater. Mivanor was founded on the basis of a self-developed technology to treat leachate from a landfill. After developing the technology for parent company Iris Salten, Mivanor now offers its solution to a wide range of companies in different industries. The Mivanor division in Sandnes is currently working with adsorption processes in a high speed, rotating reactor using different kinds of adsorbent materials.

SINTEF Energy Research AS (SINTEF ER)  
has a solid track record in biomass and waste pyrolysis, with 7 NFR projects. SINTEF ER will contribute with their extensive experience in in thermochemical conversion of biomass, experiments and mathematical modelling of pyrolysis, in addition to experimental facilities and measurement equipment.

Vestfold Waste and Ressurs AS (Vesar) is a company owned by the municipalities of Horten, Holmestrand, Larvik, Færder, Sandefjord and Tønsberg. Its main task is services related to household renovation on behalf of the owner municipalities. Vesar is one of the partners in "The Magical Factory", where food waste and animal manure are recycled into climate-friendly biogas for vehicles, bio fertilizer for the production of new food. The collaboration with agriculture has helped to ensure that the plant has been granted national pilot status. In the factory itself, food waste is recycled from about 1 million inhabitants, and animal manure is recycled from 34 farms.

University of Florida, USA  
is the leading group on designer biochar for metal binding and biochar stability (Prof. Andrew R. Zimmerman and Prof. Bin Gao).

Agroscope, Switzerland  
is the leading institute on biochar activation and they have one of the first pyrolysis units where the degree of activation can be strictly controlled. They led a recent Nature paper on the mechanisms of biochar effects on soil fertility and a paper on activated biochar.

Hunan University, China 
are experts on soil and sediment remediation, with over 20 publications in the field of reusing sewage sludge as a possible sorbent amendment for soil, as well as the decontamination of microplastics and pollutants from sludge. Hunan will be responsible for the in situ trials.

Technical University of Denmark, DTU 
is one of the global top-5 academic environments on life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) methods and their application in LCA applied to biomass-based products (including biochars) and soil remediation technologies. DTU are the most publishing and cited university worldwide on LCA. DTU is a partner in the NGI-led NFR Klimaforsk project 243789.


  1. Sørmo, E., Silvani, L., Thune, G., Gerber, H., Schmidt, H. P., Smebye, A. B., & Cornelissen, G. (2020). Waste timber pyrolysis in a medium-scale unit: Emission budgets and biochar quality. Science of the Total Environment, 718, 137335.
  2. Silvani, Ludovica, Gerard Cornelissen, Andreas Botnen Smebye, Yaxin Zhang, Gudny Okkenhaug, Andrew R. Zimmerman, Gorm Thune, Hilmar Sævarsson, and Sarah E. Hale. "Can biochar and designer biochar be used to remediate per-and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) and lead and antimony contaminated soils?." Science of The Total Environment (2019): 133693.
  3. Ludovica Silvani, Gerard Cornelissen, Sarah E. Hale. Sorption of α-, β-, γ- and δ-hexachlorocyclohexane isomers to three widely different biochars: Sorption mechanisms and application. Chemosphere, Volume 219, 2019, Pages 1044-1051.
  4. Ludovica Silvani, Sigurbjörg Hjartardottir, Lucie Bielská, Lucia Škulcová, Gerard Cornelissen, Luca Nizzetto and Sarah E. Hale. Can polyethylene passive samplers predict PCB uptake by earthworms and turnips in a biochar amended soil? Science of The Total Environment, Volume 660, 2019.

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Period | 2012 - 2021
R&D program