by Joudi Assaf–
Human waste is worth a lot more than anyone could have ever imagined.
Researchers and scientists have been looking at several different methods to help them find the most sustainable methods to use in our world today.
One of those methods is to take waste and convert it into a renewable energy source for our homes, transportation, and businesses.
Most waste to energy systems, like the one in Washington D.C., have focused on converting the solids from sewerage, by capturing methane gas and converting it into renewable energy. This is a wonderful advancement in sustainability but it isn’t quite enough.
Recently two Virginia Tech researchers, Xueyang Feng and Jason He, have found a different solution, which could be much quicker and much more beneficial in the long run.
They looked at the source itself and used it to their advantage. By analyzing the organic bacteria that’s already in waste they found two specific substrates that could be used to develop a microscopic battery.
According to Scientific American, millions of tiny microbes infest the water that carries the detritus of human life and society. Some of them steadily break down the organic material in waste streams and produce electrons in the process. By harvesting these electrons, scientists have created microbial fuel cells.
The first substrate they looked at was lactate, which is a substrate that is used to support the growth of bacteria, by being metabolized by its host bacteria. The second substrate is formate which releases electrons for a much higher electricity generation when oxidized.
Therefore, creating a powerful and stronger bacterium that can directly turn into electricity.
Melissa Grau a Virginia Tech student was beyond skeptical about the whole process but was astonished after she found out that waste was a legitimate alternative energy source.
“I didn’t even know that poop into energy was a thing a few years back,” said Grau. “I know it’s strange to just sit there and think about, but it’s actually very interesting. It makes me so proud to see our tech researchers helping expand on this idea and get us closer to a more sustainable and green life.”
Ultimately this process helps maximize the amount of electricity being generated from waste as well as helping treatment plants create actual energy instead of literally wasting the energy away.
This is only the first step in a long haul process of utilizing waste into energy. Stay updated with Virginia Tech researchers on Facebook, and see what else the researchers have in store for us, or find out more about the microbial fuel cells in the Scientific Report.
Check out this info graphic that helps break down how much human waste is affecting our world and how Virginia Tech scientists have come up with a faster and more powerful solution.