A new technology is being developed that can turn raw sewage into raw power. The device, called a microbial fuel cell, not only treats wastewater, but also provides a clean energy source with the potential for enormous financial savings, according to scientists at Pennsylvania State University.
Although power output is still relatively low, they say the technology is improving rapidly and eventually could be used to run a small wastewater treatment plant, which would be especially attractive in developing countries. It also could be used to treat waste from animal farms, food processing plants and even manned space missions. The report appears in the Nov. 1 edition of Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
Similar in design to a hydrogen fuel cell, the microbial fuel cell captures electrons that are naturally released by bacteria as they digest organic matter and then it converts the electrons into electrical current. “We generated up to 72 watts per square meter, which is 2.8 times that generated in a larger device reported earlier this year in ES&T,” says Bruce Logan, Ph.D., an environmental engineer at Pennsylvania State University and co-author of the paper. . While still a relatively small amount of power, the researchers have used these types of devices to run a small fan.
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