Waste water has been found to contain important amounts of energy, trapped inside organic molecules. A new technique coming from a team of researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis could produce as much as 2.87 watts per liter of wastewater. The remaining matter could be further recycled into biodegradable plastic.
The team led by Hong Liu used bacteria that would process organic waste and produce water. However, the process is stalled in the lack of oxygen. The electrons that are bundled with protons and oxygen to form water, are extracted from the bacteria by the potential between the fuel cell’s cathode and anode, thus creating electricity.
Unlike in earlier versions of the fuel cell, this time the team managed to fit more electrodes into the fuel cell and produce more energy. They even hope that in five years scaled-up devices will enter mass-scale production for the profile industry.
Waste water treatment has methane as its byproduct, and methane can be used to make biodegradable plastics (whose biodegradability is questionable for the environment)… but that’s another story.