Feces fuels the future

Researchers at United States Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, have found a way to convert sewage sludge into crude oil called biocrude. PNNL has announced that they composed biocrude by pumping it through a pressurized tube.

“That sounds really gross and I’m not sure where they could go with this. It’s definitely interesting,” said Tacoma local Austin Townsend.

The promises of a fecal future were promised when researchers at Stanford University found a way to harvest a large amount of electricity from feces. According to The Verge, Xing Xie, of Stanford Engineering, and his team have described a microbial battery in papers published in 2013. It was capable of generating electricity from sewage bacteria.

According to the report that PNNL released this summer, the mixture is heated to 650 degrees Fahrenheit inside the tube. The mixture is then squeezed at a pressure of 3,000 pounds per square inch. The fat in the wastewater helps keep it lubricated. The matter is similar petroleum.

Oregon State University also made a breakthrough with microbial fuel cells, which they produced electricity directly from wastewater. But Stanford’s team involved their use of exoelectrogenic microbes, which is used to create electric energy as they consume organic material. Researchers put together groups of wired microbes around the negative node of the battery, which is where they attach carbon filaments.

PNNL’s scientists think their technique has potential, and they estimate that 60 percent of the carbon in the sludge will become biocrude.

Genifuel Corporation licensed the technology and is working on rolling out a test facility in Vancouver starting in 2018. This estimated cost is less than $7 million.

“If you can turn brown to green, then I definitely think this could be the best renewable energy source,” said local Andrew Sandberg.

If the supply of fossil fuels comes from local wastewater facilities, it’s possible it could reduce our dependence on leaking pipelines, destructive mining practices, and leaking ships.

COURTESY OF PACIFIC NORTHWEST LABORATORY

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