Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Developing News Sources of Energy: Sewage treatment plant wastewater as a huge new energy source

February 28, 2011

Household sewage has far more potential
as an alternative energy source than
previously thought.
Credit: iStock

Summary

In a finding that gives new meaning to the adage, “waste
not, want not,” scientists are reporting that household
sewage has far more potential as an alternative energy
source than previously thought. They say the discovery,
which increases the estimated potential energy in
wastewater by almost 20 percent, could spur efforts to
extract methane, hydrogen and other fuels from this vast
and, as yet, untapped resource. Their report appears in
ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Scientists are reporting wastewater has much more potential as an alternative energy source than previously thought. They say that their new discovery could increase the estimated potential energy in wastewater by a significant amount. Their report appears in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Here is lead author Elizabeth S. Heidrich of Newcastle University in the U.K.

“Sewage treatment plants in the United States use about 1.3 percent of the nation’s electrical energy to treat 12.5 trillion gallons of wastewater a year. Instead of just processing and disposing of this water, treatment facilities could convert its organic molecules into fuels, transforming their work from an energy drain to an energy source.”

This approach has tremendous potential for creating a huge source of energy when there is such a growing need for new resources globally.

“One gallon of wastewater contains enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for five minutes. This is such an untapped resource. Just imagine how much power we could generate if this energy could be harvested.”

Through their research, the scientists discovered that using wastewater to create energy is even more effective than had been thought.

“In our study, we freeze-dried wastewater to conserve more of its energy-rich compounds. Using a standard device to measure energy content, we found that the wastewater we collected from a water treatment plant in Northeast England contained nearly 20 per cent more energy than reported previously.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/globalchallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Michael Bernstein. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

More about This Podcast

Our Sustainable Future: 2008 in review

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Elizabeth S. Heidrich
Newcastle University
United Kingdom