Hungry poop-eating bacteria munches on sewage, converts it into energy

poop eating bacteria francis meerburg 1
Extracting energy from sewage may not be the most glamorous job in scientific research, but it could turn out to be a potentially transformative one.

Don’t believe us? Just ask the team of microbiologists and biochemists working at Ghent University in Belgium, in collaboration with DC Water in Washington DC. They’ve developed a pilot program capable of doubling the quantity of biogas, heat, and electrical energy that can be extracted from sewage.

Essentially, it’s a potentially massive source of energy — and it all comes from poop-eating bacteria.

The process itself is based on an upgrade of existing sewage treatment processes called the “contact-stabilization process.” This process uses various enzymes and micro-organisms to deal with waste — which, in most cases, makes it no longer hazardous to the environment.

However, it’s not necessarily the most efficient of processes.

“Typically, wastewater treatment systems consume a lot of energy and are relatively expensive,” lead researcher Francis Meerburg told Digital Trends. “This is mainly due to electricity consumption by the mechanical equipment of the installation, such as pumps, and because the activated sludge bacteria need a large supply of oxygen, which is bubbled through the water through large blowers. Disposal of waste sludge can also contribute to the high costs of wastewater treatment, depending on the way the sludge is treated.”

The new solution Meerberg has helped pioneer involves “starving” bacteria prior to reintroducing it to wastewater so that it munches up the … ahem … organic material without ingesting it all. The undigested material can then be harvested and used to produce energy.

To put this all in perspective, using Meerburg’s system, roughly 55 percent of the organic matter can be recovered from sewage, compared to 20 to 30 percent using current methods. And it’s pretty darn self-sufficient as well.

“My calculations show that, unlike other high-rate systems, a high-rate contact stabilization system, coupled with anaerobic digestion of the sludge, should be able to produce enough electricity to run the wastewater treatment plant,” he said.

While the research is still in its early stages, it is already being explored by the aforementioned DC Water, as well as Virginia’s Hampton Roads Sanitation District, and the Flemish wastewater treatment agency, Aquafin.

Although bottlenecks still exist (mainly related to structural costs and a lack of incentive to replace even inefficient systems), it’s still extremely promising technology.

Emerging Tech

Does a steam-powered spacecraft hold the key to exploring the solar system?

A newly developed spacecraft prototype capable of using steam as a propellent may help the first miners survey potential dig sites and identify space rocks best fit for mining missions. Future versions may be fitted with sensors, allowing…
Emerging Tech

NASA’s ‘Refabricator’ lets astronauts recycle 3D-printed tools to make new ones

The International Space Station just received a fancy new gadget in the form of a Refabricator, a machine capable of 3D printing using recycled plastic materials. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Groundbreaking new technique can turn plastic waste into energy-dense fuel

The world has a waste plastic problem. Chemists from Purdue University have a potentially game changing solution: They want to turn it into a gasoline or diesel-like fuel. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Hi-viz bike reflectors and a tiny flashlight

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Atomo’s ‘molecular coffee’ is brewed without needing to harvest coffee beans

Coffee beans, huh? Who needs ‘em? Apparently not the folks behind Seattle-based startup Atomo, who claim to have created a cup of "molecular coffee" that requires no beans to be harvested.
Emerging Tech

Forget police helicopters, California cops are using drones to spot suspects

Police drones deployed by California’s Chula Vista Police Department helped lead to the arrest of 20 suspects over a three-month study. It's a glimpse of the future of drones in law enforcement.
Smart Home

Ford’s ingenious bed for couples keeps mattress hogs in their own half

Drawing on its driverless-car technology, Ford has created a smart bed for couples that uses sensors and a conveyor belt to prevent either occupant from straying onto the other half of the mattress while they doze.
Emerging Tech

Own a drone? New rule means you have to change the way IDs are displayed

Registered drone owners will need to put their machine's ID number on the outside of the aircraft from February 23 in accordance with a new FAA rule. It means the ID can no longer be placed inside the drone's battery compartment.
Emerging Tech

After Kepler kicks the bucket, NASA releases its final image

The final images from the Kepler Space Telescope have arrived. After nearly a decade of operation, NASA’s groundbreaking telescope ran out of fuel last year and was placed into permanent sleep mode on October 30, 2018.
Emerging Tech

Caltech’s bird-inspired robot uses thrusters to help stay on its feet

Researchers from Caltech have developed a new bird-inspired robot that uses thrusters on its torso to help it to walk with more stability. Here's why that challenge is so important.
Mobile

T-Mobile says Sprint merger will boost 5G speeds by up to 6 times

2019 will be a huge year for T-Mobile. Not only is a merger with Sprint likely, but T-Mobile is also in the midst of building out its next-generation mobile service. Here's everything you need to know about the T-Mobile 5G rollout.
Emerging Tech

After a record-setting 15 years, NASA ends Opportunity rover’s tour of Mars

NASA has officially called it quits on its record-setting Mars rover Opportunity, eight months after last hearing from the lander. The Rover landed on the Red Planet in early 2004.
Emerging Tech

With CabinSense, cars will soon know who’s riding in them and respond accordingly

What if your car could know who's riding in it and customize the entertainment and safety options accordingly? That’s what's promised by the new CabinSense in-car Occupancy Monitoring System.
Emerging Tech

Words are so 2018. The Peeqo robot speaks exclusively in GIFs and video clips

Move over, Amazon Echo! Peeqo is a cute robot that will answer your spoken word questions by displaying a specially selected short video or GIF. Because, you know, it’s the year 2019.