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----------------------------------Creating energy from wastewater
Bruce Logan, Kappe Professor of environmental engineering, Pennsylvania State University
Renewable and clean forms of energy are global necessities. So is adequate waste-water sanitation. Logan is addressing both of these needs.
His work involves using microbial fuel cells to produce electricity or hydrogen from wastewater—while also cleaning the water. This research provides an environmentally friendly method for wastewater treatment based on using bacteria to harvest energy from organic matter.
Logan began microbial fuel cell research in 2002. He'd been exploring methods of hydrogen gas production, but yields were low and too little of the substrate remained unused for hydrogen production by bacteria. So when he heard about the concept of a microbial fuel cell—which could use all the remaining organic matter to produce more hydrogen—he immediately realized “this was a technology that could be transformed from what was then a laboratory curiosity to a real treatment process.”
Logan and his team discovered that by using microbial fuel cells to clean water, they also could generate electricity from ordinary domestic wastewater, animal wastewater, and any biodegradable material. This finding may provide a new method that offsets waste-water treatment plant operating costs, making advanced treatment more affordable for both developing and industrialized nations.
“Five percent of the electricity used in this country is for the water infrastructure,” says Logan. “We can make this sustainable by recovering energy already in the wastewater.” Logan predicts that microbial fuel cells will lead to a complete redesign of wastewater treatment plants, enabling them to also act as energy-producing systems. But first, Logan and his researchers must produce large-scale results.
“Creating this technology could benefit people around the world in obtaining efficient wastewater treatment and protecting human health,” says Logan.
— Victoria K. Sicaras