In The Future, Your Dumps Will Be Measured In Kilowatts

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EE Times could have had some fun titling this article:

  • From Crap To Current
  • From Waste To Watts
  • From Poop To Power
  • Doody Dynamo
  • God, Please, Somebody Stop Me!
but they went with the benign title of "Bacteria in wastewater harnessed for electricity":
Portland, Ore. — An environmental engineer has found a way not only to cleanse contaminated wastewater with its own bacteria but to generate electricity from the funky flow.

Lars Angenent, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Washington University (St. Louis), has already prototyped his findings in a device the size of a thermos bottle — a variation on the hydrogen fuel cell — but he knows it will have to scale up dramatically to fill a commercial role.

With scaled-up capacity, Angenent said, a large food-processing plant, which now must cleanse its water at a cost, would be able to turn that processing into a profit center. Industrial-scale wastewater treatment plants, he said, could produce enough electricity to power thousands of households while simultaneously cleansing their water.

Angenent's microbial fuel cell design uses the bacteria from wastewater on its anode and cathode instead of platinum, enabling it to make a fuel from the water to create electricity while simultaneously neutralizing the biological matter that would otherwise have to be purged from the water.

. . .

"Today, contaminated water is treated in giant reactors that produce methane and carbon dioxide gas," Angenent said. "But the microbial fuel cell would use these treatment chambers to produce electricity instead."

Angenent estimated that a bioelectricity-generating wastewater treatment system based on a scaled-up version of the microbial fuel cell has the potential to power about 900 single-family American households from a single food-processing plant. Angenent performed the research in consultation with professor Shelley Minteer at St. Louis University and with the assistance of Washington University doctoral candidate Jason He.

Angenent's team continues to optimize the reactor configuration, with their next step being optimization of the reactor's operation and, finally, building a large system capable of processing millions of gallons of wastewater. "We believe that larger versions will be able to be used for local-neighborhood electricity generation," he said. "I want to have a large pilot-scale system within 10 years."
So the future of power generation may be a lot cleaner (or lots lots dirtier, depending on your perspective) than you think.

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This page contains a single entry by Chris published on July 27, 2005 1:39 PM.

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