“Nobody likes to think about what happens to wastewater once its gone down the drain, and it’s not often that sewers capture the imagination of researchers. But a new technology being developed by Oregon State University could turn sewage treatment plants from a major drain on the country’s electrical grid to a fairly significant source of energy themselves.
“The primary concern with sewage is to ensure that the water is properly treated, with contaminants removed thoroughly enough that the water can either be recycled or released back into local waterways.
“But wastewater also contains large amounts of organic material, the essential basis for fossil fuels and a convenient store of usable energy.
“Many wastewater treatment plants already make use of some of this energy through a process known as anaerobic digestion, which uses bacteria to break down organic compounds into, at least partly, methane gas. This gas can then be burned as a fuel or, at the very least, flared to limit its impact as a greenhouse gas.
“However, engineering research at OSU led by Hong Liu, an associate professor in the Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering, has led to the development of a technology that would instead use this wastewater as the power source in a microbial fuel cell.”
“If this technology works on a commercial scale the way we believe it will, the treatment of wastewater could be a huge energy producer, not a huge energy cost,” Liu said in a statement. “This could have an impact around the world, save a great deal of money, provide better water treatment and promote energy sustainability.”
Read more: Knovel