PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Bradley University has partnered with the Greater Peoria Sanitary District (GPSD) to make the planet greener.

They’re finding ways to turn sludge, or what they call bio-solids, into bio-char. It’s a resource that can be used in various ways to help the environment and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Two and a half years in the making, 15 students and two professors have gotten in on the action.

“We are in the process of actually trapping some of that CO2 that can go out, so ultimately we are trying to help clean up the environment in terms of long-term greenhouse gas effects,” said Dr. Kris Maillacheruvu, associate dean of future initiatives at Bradley University.

By using engineering and science, the bio-char is turned into usable resources to help plants grow at a faster, more reliable rate.

“You can work that stuff into essentially charcoal, so that charcoal is called bio-char,” said Maillacheruvu. “Nature takes millions of years to do it and we can do that in a matter of an hour for a certain batch of material.”

The GPSD has covered the entirety of the cost of the project, costing them $38,000 so far.

Currently, the students and faculty are working on the first phase of the project, called proof of concept. This includes designing the reactor, running the reactor, and producing and analyzing results at the GPSD.

“The next stage is the pilot scale. So that pilot scale is something that we’re going to be starting out pretty soon, and the final one would be the full scale, but that full scale, we would only do the design, the construction and all of that would [involve] bringing in contractors, and GPSD would be doing that, as well,” said Maillacheruvu.

Although their work is far from over, it’s a project and design that once it works at a full scale, can virtually be used all over the world.

“If we’re seeing it work here, we can bring in bio-solids from the local communities and manage there, and it can very organically spread out and if it saves money in the end, it’s going to be picked up and used,” said Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at Bradley University David Spelman.

With specific waste disposal regulations in place, and stronger regulations coming in the future, it’s with thousands of pounds of sludge being hauled to agricultural fields, the price can increase in the future with stricter environmental regulations, which would put the sludge in landfills, costing more for the taxpayer.

Their solution is an effective and cheaper option than what’s currently being done with the sludge.