Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Watts From Wastewater: New Device Produces Power While Treating Sewage

Date:
November 2, 2004
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
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.

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.

The technology is developing rapidly. Since submitting the current paper, Logan and his colleagues have tweaked microbial fuel cell devices to produce up to 350 watts per square meter. “Two years ago we had 0.1 . . . and now we’re in the 100s,” he says. “We’d like to get in the range of 500-1000. We’re looking for another order of magnitude increase.”

Logan doesn’t envision using his microbial fuel cell for the same type of applications as hydrogen fuel cells, such as in automobiles or houses. “We see using this any place where there’s a high concentration of organic matter,” he says.

The most obvious application would be in wastewater treatment plants, which essentially could power themselves as they treat water. Such a technology would be particularly useful in developing countries, Logan suggests, because it would produce a net amount of electricity, offering a reason to keep a treatment plant running besides just treating wastewater. “Even if it’s only powering a cell phone tower, that would be a reason enough to keep it going,” he says.

David Bagley, a scientist at the University of Toronto, has calculated that the energy potential in wastewater is almost 10 times the cost to treat it. “If we could achieve just one-twentieth of that power, we could break even,” Logan says. “We’re confident we’re going to be able to do more than that.”

“In our system, the two electrodes are separated by a proton exchange membrane (PEM), just like in a conventional hydrogen fuel cell,” says Logan. “It opens the door to using existing hydrogen-gas based stack technologies with bacteria in water.”

At the moment, scientists can’t exactly pull a hydrogen fuel cell off the shelf and use it to treat wastewater, but the design principles are very similar. Wastewater flows on one side of the cell and air flows on the other, continuously generating electricity while also removing organic matter from the water.

The device also could be used to treat waste from the food processing industry and farms — especially hog farms, which have tremendous problems with costs and odors, Logan says. NASA scientists are even developing a similar technology to be used in manned space missions, turning the astronauts’ waste into extra power.

Logan plans to build a larger version of his microbial fuel cell for demonstrations; he hopes to have the design completed in about six months.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization, chartered by the U.S. Congress, with a multidisciplinary membership of more than 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers. It publishes numerous scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Watts From Wastewater: New Device Produces Power While Treating Sewage." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 November 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041030205626.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2004, November 2). Watts From Wastewater: New Device Produces Power While Treating Sewage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041030205626.htm
American Chemical Society. "Watts From Wastewater: New Device Produces Power While Treating Sewage." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041030205626.htm (accessed September 30, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Argentina's Tax Evaders Detected, Hunted Down by Drones

Argentina's Tax Evaders Detected, Hunted Down by Drones

AFP (Sep. 30, 2014) Argentina doesn't only have Lionel Messi the footballer, it has now also acquired "Mesi" the drone system which monitors undeclared mansions, swimming pools and soy fields to curb tax evasion in the country. Duration: 01:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do Video Games Trump Brain Training For Cognitive Boosts?

Do Video Games Trump Brain Training For Cognitive Boosts?

Newsy (Sep. 29, 2014) More and more studies are showing positive benefits to playing video games, but the jury is still out on brain training programs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
CERN Celebrates 60 Years of Science

CERN Celebrates 60 Years of Science

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 29, 2014) CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, celebrates 60 years of bringing nations together through science. As Joanna Partridge reports from inside the famous science centre it's also planning to turn the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator back on after an upgrade. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
This 'Invisibility Cloak' Is Simpler Than Most

This 'Invisibility Cloak' Is Simpler Than Most

Newsy (Sep. 28, 2014) Researchers from the University of Rochester have created a type of invisibility cloak with simple focal lenses. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins