Sanitary sewage treatment and access to reliable power are still serious problems for both urban and remote areas in developing countries, but a new household processing device filled with bacteria might be the solution for both issues.
Researchers at Oregon State University may have found a way to not only reduce the need for human sewage treatment plants, but also generate electricity for residents of developing countries.
Hong Liu, co-author of the groundbreaking study, has helped developed a household device that when populated with Shewanella oneidensis, one of several types of bacteria that can break down organic matter in sewage, can produce electrons and protons.
When sewage is placed between the device's electrodes with the bacteria present, this process can be harnessed to generate an electrical current, according to SciDev.net.
This idea has been around for several years but, so far, microbial fuel cells have not been able to produce enough current to power even basic appliances. Now researchers have created a more efficient cell by designing electrodes that can capture more electrons from the bacteria. The new type of electrode, coated in gold nanoparticles can boost the amount of electricity to useful quantities.
Findings of the study are being written for publication in Biosensors and Bioelectronics, and include the discovery that nanocoatings can increase the performance of the cells 20-fold, generating enough current to power a light bulb or a small fan.
Acknowledging the fact that this is far from sufficient for most households, the researchers maintain that they will be able to improve the efficiency of the system and develop it to a commercial scale within 3–5 years.
For countries like Thailand and Lebanon, that routinely dump raw sewage into oceans and rivers used for drinking and cleaning, this technology could represent a much-needed solution for both environmental and population crises.
Image Credit: Flickr - Eddie~S