Creating Electricity from Wastewater Bacteria

Creating Electricity from Wastewater Bacteria

Wastewater refers to the abundance of water that has been used in our homes and businesses and collected extraneous organic matter. This water is funneled into the sewer system and undergoes a vast amount of treatment before it is considered clean enough to return to an ocean or river. The treatment processes are known for making the water safe for the environment but have no other positive side effects. This may all be about to change. Researchers at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona(UAB) have found a bacterial treatment for wastewater that actually creates electricity and hydrogen during treatment.

If you haven’t been following us, developing technologies is a subject that is near and dear to ATS considering that we test for and remove outdated storage tanks and even developed our own tank testing equipment. Scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are constantly creating new technologies that make our daily lives easier, streamline difficult processes, improve the environment, and generally bring us closer as a global community. Every Thursday, ATS brings you a new “tech” that we think is worth learning about!

Bacteria treatments for wastewater generally involve removing the organic material from the water and then treating the leftover sludge. The sludge contains chemical energy that scientists have been attempting to harvest as hydrogen. However, a limiting factor of wastewater treatment is the associated cost with both the removal and treatment of the organic sludge.

However, the research team UAB has found that the combination of specific bacteria with the organic components from the sludge that results in electricity and hydrogen. Using exoelectrogenic bacteria, the team was able to recover a large amount of energy that could be converted to electricity and hydrogen. The process through which the organic matter and bacteria are converted is known as microbial electrolysis cells (MEC). While the theory has only been tested in a laboratory setting, the researchers have used actual wastewater samples and concluded that dairy wastewater would yield the largest amount of energy. While this technology remains in testing for now, it is possible that it could be adapted for industrial purposes in the future.

Creating a source of energy from our ever increasing supply of wastewater sounds like a long term strategy for renewable energy in the future!