Two big problems in the world today are the appropriate disposal of human waste and getting constant, safe and environmentally beneficial power. This is especially true in Africa so the possible future solution of converting human waste to fuel will surely be beneficial to the continent.
Such an innovation would improve sanitation in our cities and give us green energy that will be useful in carrying out a lot of other processes and innovations.
There are already a few examples of this innovation in practice even here in Africa. For instance, the toilet block at a girl’s school in Uganda has used bacteria to power its lights.
Two Ways Human Waste Can Be The Fuel Of The Future
Some researchers at the University of the West of England created a compact, living power station which are known as microbial fuel cells which can be harnessed to turn pee into power. Right now, the energy that they are able to generate can be used to light small rooms or provide power for small electronic devices.
Between 2015 and 2017, researchers have been able to reduce the size and increase the efficiency of the microbial fuel cells and that seems to be a precursor to the great achievements that we can expect in the future.
Loannis Leropoulos, director of the Bristol Bio-energy Centre and professor at the university who led the project said;
“This technology not only cleans the wastewater, and so improves sanitation and hygiene, but at the same time it is generating energy,”
When the pee-powered fuel cells were used to charge a smartphone it took about 64 hours to completely fill the battery on the device. This is because the cells produce under an amp of current and around three volts of electricity.
Leropoulous, however, believes that the power of the fuel cells can be boosted by tweaking the materials and processes. The team was behind the installation of the stack of microbial fuel cells that is powering the toilet block in Uganda.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has some researchers working on developing techniques to turn solid feces into a sludge that can flow through the fuel cells. Leropoulos is, of course, working with them on the innovation.
A report produced by the United Nations University in Japan has stated that if all human feces was converted into biogas, it could provide electricity for 138 million households.
There is also something called “fatbergs” that researchers are workin on to convert to energy. Fatbergs occur when huge congealed blobs of grease, oil and fat accumulate and they often clog sewers.
One which was uncovered in London, weighing 130 tonnes was sent to a processing plant to be transformed into 10,000 litres of biodiesel that can be used in buses and trucks.
Wessex Water in Bristol, England has also installed a biogas plant at its sewage works, turning raw sewage into 56 million litres of biomethane a day.
A lot of work is ongoing in creating this human waste fueled future and although it may sound odd, just consider that there are over 2.5 billion people without access to safe sanitation in the world and about 1.2 billion without access to electricity. Human waste and fuel neatly solves for those two problems.