Experts estimate that about 3% of all the energy in developed countries is used to treat sewage. That's a lot, and much of that energy is the result of burning fossil fuels. That may all change, however, as researchers claim to have devised an efficient process that will convert wastewater into clean energy.
The new method would not only allow treatment plants to power themselves, but would enable them to sell excess energy at a profit. If proven feasible outside the lab, this breakthrough would represent a radical shift for this oft-unmentioned, but sizable segment of the global economy.
The research team based at Oregon State University claims they have demonstrated a giant leap in the performance of microbial fuel cells, which use wastewater and bacteria to create a huge waste-powered battery.
The team is certainly not the first to look into creating fuel cells from waste, but by utilizing a number of new concepts such as reduced anode-cathode spacing, evolved microbes, and new separator materials, the team can create 10 to 50 times more energy per volume than other leading approaches.
The new system is able to create more than two kilowatts per cubic meter of liquid reactor volume, an output that "far exceeds anything else done with microbial fuel cells" according to a statement released by OSU.