Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Vast energy value in human waste: UN University

03.11.2015

Safe, systematic collection of human waste in low-resource countries could yield valuable fuels, invaluable health and environmental benefits

Biogas from human waste, safely obtained under controlled circumstances using innovative technologies, is a potential fuel source great enough in theory to generate electricity for up to 138 million households - the number of households in Indonesia, Brazil, and Ethiopia combined.


Biogas, approximately 60 percent methane by volume, is generated through the bacterial breakdown of organic matter in an oxygen free system.

Credit: Corinne Schuster-Wallace, UNU-INWEH

A report today from UN University's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health estimates that biogas potentially available from human waste worldwide would have a value of up to US$ 9.5 billion in natural gas equivalent.

And the residue, dried and charred, could produce 2 million tonnes of charcoal-equivalent fuel, curbing the destruction of trees.

Finally, experts say, the large energy value would prove small relative to that of the global health and environmental benefits that would accrue from the safe treatment of human waste in low-resource settings.

"Rather than treating our waste as a major liability, with proper controls in place we can use it in several circumstances to build innovative and sustained financing for development while protecting health and improving our environment in the process," according to the report, "Valuing Human Waste as an Energy Resource."

The report uses average waste volume statistics, high and low assumptions for the percentage of concentrated combustable solids contained (25 - 45%), its conversion into biogas and charcoal-like fuel and their thermal equivalents (natural gas and charcoal), to calculate the potential energy value of human waste.

Biogas, approximately 60% methane by volume, is generated through the bacterial breakdown of faecal matter, and any other organic matter, in an oxygen free (anaerobic) system.

Dried and charred faecal sludge, meanwhile, has energy content similar to coal and charcoal.

UN figures show that 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities and almost 1 billion people (about 60% of them in India) don't use toilets at all, defecating instead in the open.

If the waste of only those practicing open defecation was targeted, the financial value of biogas potentially generated exceeds US$ 200 million per year and could reach as high as $376 million. The energy value would equal that of the fuel needed to generate electricity for 10 million to 18 million local households. Processing the residual faecal sludge, meanwhile, would yield the equivalent of 4.8 million to 8.5 million tonnes of charcoal to help power industrial furnaces, for example.

World already reuses the water and nutrients in wastewater

Says lead author Corinne Schuster-Wallace: "Increasingly, water-scarce regions are being driven to separate and reuse the water in wastewater, particularly to expand marginal agricultural lands. There is a technological opportunity, particularly in rural growth areas and small towns, to derive energy as well from this resource."

UNU-INWEH Senior Research Fellow Chris Metcalfe of Trent University notes that human waste, as with animal waste, is already used to improve food production in many places around the world, governed by guidelines to ensure its safe use.

A study in Sweden established that human urine contains over 300 g of phosphorous, 900 g of potassium and 300 g of sulphur per cubic meter. According to the World Health Organization, an individual's body excretes an estimated 4.5 kg of nitrogen and 548 g of phosphorus per year.

"We recycle the nutrients in human waste effectively via agriculture in many places, yet the potential energy value of human waste has been given much less attention to date," says Dr. Metcalfe, a report co-author along with UNU consultant Chris Wild. "Challenges are many but clearly there is a compelling, multi-dimensional financial case to be made for deriving energy from waste."

Says UNU-INWEH Director Zafar Adeel: "When it comes to creating misery and poverty, human waste mismanagement has few rivals. If we can demonstrate a simple, cost effective new approach in low-resource settings, if we can successfully make a business case and change the economic paradigm of human waste management, we can advance development, protect the environment and help reduce sanitation problems causing one-tenth of all world illnesses."

"World Toilet Day, upcoming November 19, offers the opportunity to promote new thinking and to continue puncturing the taboos in many places that inhibit discussion and perpetuate the disgrace and tragedy of inadequate human waste management in many developing world areas. This report contributes to that goal."

Waste to wealth

With initial seed funds from federally-funded Grand Challenges Canada, UNU-INWEH in partnership with the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment, its agencies, and other NGO and academic institutions, established the Waste to Wealth national framework.

Waste to Wealth utilises modern anaerobic digestion technologies linked to sanitation systems.

With a focus on rural growth centers and small towns, as well as high population density institutions such as schools and prisons, the biogas and residual material left from energy conversion is a valuable economic resource to provide a return on investment in bioenergy technologies.

The ultimate goal of Waste to Wealth is decentralised (on site) faecal waste management and to help bridge the finance gap for sanitation in Uganda. By identifying value in waste (energy and /or fertilizer), Waste to Wealth provides an incentive to use toilets and a mechanism to finance both upfront capital costs as well as facility operation, maintenance, and expansion. In addition to the economic opportunities, sanitation interventions have known benefits to individual, household and community health and wellbeing.

Video: http://bit.ly/1GH9oRy

Photos: http://bit.ly/1RcC1qr

Website: http://inweh.unu.edu/waste-to-wealth

Phase two of the project involves proof of concept of a series of proposed initiatives, including equipping a Ugandan prison with a $100,000 system requiring approximately $5,000 in annual operating costs, expected to pay for itself through fuel cost savings within 2 years.

Waste to Wealth is one of several pilot projects in Africa to have received seed grants from Grand Challenges Canada for the systematic collection of waste for processing into a variety of energy or agricultural products.

Related projects in Africa include:

Kenya

  • Collecting and converting human waste into solid fuel for use by cement plants and other industries

     

  • Franchising toilets; profitably, safely collecting and removing the waste daily, converting it into fuel and fertilizer, and

     

  • Collecting human waste and converting it into high quality, emission free bio-charcoal cooking fuel

Uganda

Production of biogas and organic fertilizer from street waste

###

UNU-INWEH

http://bit.ly/1vjfKAS

The United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health is a member of the United Nations University family of organizations. It is the UN Think Tank on Water created by the UNU Governing Council in 1996. The mission of the institute is to help resolve pressing water challenges that are of concern to the United Nations, its Member States, and their people, through knowledge- based synthesis of existing bodies of scientific discovery; through cutting edge targeted research that identifies emerging policy issues; through application of on-the-ground scalable solutions based on credible research; and, through relevant and targeted public outreach. It is hosted by the Government of Canada and McMaster University.

Media Contact

Terry Collins
tc@tca.tc
416-878-8712

http://www.unu.edu 

Terry Collins | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: fertilizer natural gas waste management

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Global study of world's beaches shows threat to protected areas
19.07.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht NSF-supported researchers to present new results on hurricanes and other extreme events
19.07.2018 | National Science Foundation

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>