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article imageEnergy crisis solution could be to use human waste

By Tim Sandle     Nov 8, 2015 in Environment
Toronto - Researchers in Canada are considering the feasibility of using biogas, derived from human waste, to produce energy. They argue that each year people produce waste that could be converted to energy worth $9.5 billion, at current prices.
The thought of taking human fecal material and creating a "biogas" may seem a little disgusting, but it provides a potential energy source that is self-renewing and one that does not involve messing up Antarctica in search of oil. In addition to biogas, the residue from the process — the dried and charred remains (called fecal sludge) — could be used to produce 2 million tonnes of charcoal-equivalent fuel. This would reduce the need to use trees.
The key technical factor is safety: processing human waste safely (since it will contain pathogenic, enteric microorganisms) and generating and collecting gas in a way that will not result in explosions. The idea has come from the United Nations University's Canadian-based water institute.
Based on a feasibility report, scientists are estimating that between 25 and 45 percent of human waste can be converted to a usable gas. The gas would be approximately 60 percent methane by volume. This comes about as bacteria breakdown fecal matter.
To produce the gas, special bioreactors would be required. These would create an anaerobic atmosphere that would encourage the bacteria to grow and process the waste matter.
The author of a new report examining the use of human waste (which includes urine as well as feces), Corinne Schuster-Wallace, is quoted as saying: "Increasingly, water-scarce regions are being driven to separate and reuse the water in wastewater, particularly to expand marginal agricultural lands. There is a technological opportunity, particularly in rural growth areas and small towns, to derive energy as well from this resource."
Further work, including running pilot studies, is required before such a measure is attempted. The first pilot will be in Uganda, under the new “Waste to Wealth” national framework.
More about Biogas, Feces, Urine, Human waste, Ecology
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