A project from a team of researchers from Imperial College London, the University of Manchester,
and Durham University beat more than 2,000 other
proposals to receive funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to
develop a prototype system for recovering drinkable water and harvesting
hydrogen energy from human faecal waste. The researchers believe the technology
could provide an inexpensive device for people in the developing world to
generate clean water and energy from waste and a sustainable source of hydrogen
energy that could be used to power homes in developed countries.
The researchers say that the device will be portable, allowing installation
in homes and remote locations. The technology is based on a porous scaffold
that holds bacteria and metal nanoparticles. When faecal sludge is filtered
through the scaffolding these particles will react with the waste mater to
generate the recycled resources. These can either be used immediately or stored
for later use.
The first stage of the project will see the team developing a stand-alone
sanitation device, making it easier and cheaper for people in developing
countries to adopt the technology where large sewage networks may not exist.
Where sewage infrastructure is in place, the technology could be hooked into
the system, minimizing implementation costs for home owners.
In the long term, the researchers aim to further develop their device into a ‘pick and mix’ series of recycling units that can extract the types of
resources most useful for users such as: Electrolytes, used for generating
electricity; methane, for energy; and ammonia, which is a widely used fertilizer.
The team says their device would be an advantage over other systems currently
on the market that can only recover one or two resources at most.
Martyn McLachlan, PhD, Department of Materials at Imperial, says: “In the
future, we may see homes in the U.K. generating their own clean water, energy ,and
fertilizer simply by doing what comes naturally to us all once or twice day.
More important are the implications for developing countries, where the
provision of clean drinking water is essential for supporting life and
self-generated energy could be used to support economic growth.”
The researchers plan to have a prototype ready to demonstrate by 2013.