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OSU Researchers Make Electricity From Sewage

OPB | Aug. 14, 2012 6:48 a.m. | Updated: Aug. 15, 2012 6:15 a.m.

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Oregon State University professor Hong Liu

Oregon State University professor Hong Liu

Oregon State University

Researchers at Oregon State University say they’ve found a new way to generate energy from wastewater.

The new method for producing electricity uses bacteria to process waste and generate an electrical current. The current then powers a fuel cell.

Wastewater treatment uses about 3 percent of the electricity consumed in the U.S., said OSU professor Hong Liu, who developed the technology. She’d like to turn that around.

“Now we hope we generate electricity instead of consume electricity,” Liu said. “We can make wastewater treatment more sustainable.” 

Generating energy from wastewater is not new. In Oregon, at least 28 sewage treatment plants generate energy from methane as microbes digest solid waste. But in lab tests, Liu says her fuel cell method is more efficient than methane digestion.

The technology could also be used to process other types of waste, like byproducts from the dairy or beer industries.

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