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Harnessing Poop For Power Efficiently

Pretty soon, chowing down those bean burritos may actually come in handy.

Researchers at Stanford University have come up with a new method of harnessing electricity from human waste. While this concept has been around for quite some time (in one form or another), Stanford’s researchers have discovered a way of making it work even better.

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Image source: www.extremetech.com

Basically, for all these years, we’ve been wasting the energy potential of sewage; a virtually endless source of power (with the right kind of extracting methods). The researchers created what they described as a “microbial battery”, which generates electricity from bacteria in sewage waste.

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Image source: www.theverge.com

As the microbes devour the organic material, they generate electricity. Hooking up scores of these microbes to batteries allows the researchers to harness that energy and convert it into usable power. Right now, they’re able to efficiently extract around 30 percent of the energy in sewage, which is similar to the rate solar cells harness energy from the sun.

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Image source: www.wikipedia.org

The entire process takes close to a full day, at which point the battery is removed and re-oxidized to release its stored energy. Since sewage contains far less energy than the sun, this process will never replace solar power as a primary alternative energy source. However, used alongside solar farms, wind turbines, and other green energies, it’s easy to see how a city could lower their energy costs exponentially and create a more efficient electrical grid.

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Image source: www.subharanjangupta.wordpress.com

Right now, the sewage harnessing process isn’t economically viable. The researchers have stated that one of their biggest challenges moving forward with the project will be lowering costs. They’ve been using silver to grab the energy from sewage, which, as you know, is pretty expensive.

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Image source: www.smithy.com

It’ll be interesting to see where this project goes from here. I can only imagine the conversation that went on between the researchers and the funding department to get the ball rolling in the first place…

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