Wastewater treatment plants that generate energy are not new. In Oregon, there are at least 24 sewage treatment plants that generate electricity by burning methane, a product of sludge-digesting bacteria.
But OSU Researcher/Professor Hong Liu has come up with more efficient way to generate electricity from waste streams (you can read the OSU press release here). She’s figured out how to get microbes to generate electricity that can be stored in a fuel cell.
Liu says this method is cleaner than the wastewater treatment digestors that generate methane, since the anaerobic method produces unwanted byproducts like hydrogen sulfide. It could also prove useful in places across the world where access to electricity is scarce.
“We can use not only wastewater as a fuel source, we can use sugar, all kinds of starch,” says Liu. “Bacteria can break down those organic materials and generate electricity to the fuel cell. You could use it as portable power source that you could use to power a cell phone, a laptop.”
So, the technology isn’t just for wastewater —you could use it to generate energy from other waste streams, too. Perhaps the wine, dairy, or beer industries in the Northwest might want to look into it?