Harvesting energy and water from human waste
4 April 2012
A prototype system for recovering drinkable water and harvesting hydrogen energy from human faecal waste beat more than 2,000 other proposals to receive funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in November 2011.
The winning team of scientists from the Department of Materials, the University of Manchester and Durham University, believe the technology could be used in an inexpensive device by people in the developing world to generate clean water and energy from waste. It also could be used as a sustainable source of hydrogen energy to power homes.
The researchers say that the device will be portable, allowing installation in homes and remote locations. The technology is based on a porous scaffold that holds bacteria and metal nanoparticles. When faecal sludge is filtered through the scaffold, these particles react with the waste matter to generate the recycled resources. These can either be used immediately or stored for later use.
The first stage of the project will see the team developing a standalone sanitation device, making it easier and cheaper for people in developing countries to adopt the technology where large sewage networks may not exist. Where sewage infrastructure is in place, the technology could be hooked into the system, minimising implementation costs for home owners.
Dr Martyn McLachlan (Materials) said: “In the future, we may see homes in the UK generating their own clean water, energy and fertiliser simply by doing what comes naturally to us all once or twice day. More important are the implications for developing countries, where the provision of clean drinking water is essential for supporting life and self-generated energy could be used to support economic growth.”
— Colin Smith, Communications and Development