Converting Wastewater into Usable Energy

Water Law Resource
July 30, 2012 — 1,093 views  
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Water is essential for sustaining life, yet in recent years it seems that more and more people are taking it for granted. However, protecting drinking water and finding ways to utilize wastewater are imperative for everyone's wellbeing. 

The Water Environment Federation states that unreliable access to clean water and water services causes shortages, and failing infrastructure systems are problems water utility and environmental professionals must consider now. Wastewater conversion can be used for power and reusable energy in a way that can address some of these concerns, recovering and reusing this valuable resource if managed properly.

Examining the latest trends in wastewater conversion can shed some light on what environmental professionals are working toward in an effort to make the most of the global water supply. For instance, research journal Nature recently reported on a new form of generated electricity from wastewater treatment. The publication states this novel technique combines two forms of renewable energy, one that uses salt water and one that uses bacteria, to clean wastewater while also generating electricity.

The lead author of the study was Bruce Logan of the Hydrogen Energy Center and the Engineering Energy and Environmental Institute at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, according to the resource. Logan explained that by combining these two existing techniques, sewage water could become a useful source of energy. The publication reveals this is because domestic wastewater contains nine times more chemical energy than the water used to treat it, and when this is added to the energy from waste water in food production and livestock, the result is enough to maintain the entire United States water infrastructure.

Alternative wastewater collection systems are also becoming more prevalent as a way to utilize wastewater more effectively. Government Engineering, a journal for public infrastructure, states vacuum sewers are now considered to be an acceptable alternative for sewer services and provide reliable wastewater services to towns and communities worldwide. The ability to efficiently collect wastewater will allow these methods to be implemented on a larger scale.

A perfect example of this is the recent $12 million project that has been approved by officials of the Water and Sewer Authority of Cabarrus County in North Carolina. The Charlotte Observer reports the project will enable its major sewage plant to generate enough electricity to power 1,400 homes per day by 2014. The money will go toward building a bio-solids handling facility as well as new equipment that converts wastewater into steam and a steam-turbine generator to convert steam into electricity.

Water Law Resource