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Is Wastewater an Effective Source of Renewable Energy?

Alternative Energy

Technology is changing the world, transforming everything from modern manufacturing and development to even the average consumer home. The problem, however, is that as we grow to rely on it more and more — and power on more devices — the greater our levels of energy consumption become. Collectively, we are using massive amounts of energy and it’s no secret that fossil fuels just aren’t going to sustain us forever.

We need to become more dependent on renewable energy sources, which means finding new ways to produce power. It’s not just about utilizing wind, solar, geothermal and more common forms of renewable energy, but it’s also about finding entirely new solutions.

One unorthodox yet lucrative solution is wastewater. It’s not just sewer or waste sludge, but all forms of wastewater including agricultural and industrial wastes too.

What is Wastewater Really?

Essentially, the term “wastewater” refers to any form of water that is contaminated largely by organic wastes, including human, industrial or agricultural influence. Sewage water or similar contaminated fluid sources are the most common, obviously. But wastewater can also come from a variety of sources, such as industrial or manufacturing plants. Agricultural runoff is another form of wastewater often laden with chemicals and pollutants that can be harmful to the surrounding environment.

Another term for it is “sludge” because of how the solid waste can take an almost gel or sludge-like form.

​​​​​​​What Does Wastewater Have to Do with Energy?

Most forms of wastewater naturally create energy as they break down. Organic waste that decomposes — sewage streams are a great example — tend to release methane gas, more so if they’re in an oxygen-free environment. It just so happens that methane can be captured and leveraged to produce energy.

There’s an additional benefit to using methane in this way too. Capturing and reusing it, instead of allowing it to disperse, helps prevent it from building up within the atmosphere. As many likely know this helps contribute to greenhouse gases or global warming.

So, the benefits of using wastewater to produce energy are two-fold. We gain a reliable, efficient renewable energy source and also help eliminate the rise of global warming in the process. Then, there’s also the benefits afforded by more efficient and reliable waste management solutions — eliminating solid waste, contaminants, and sewage closer to the Earth’s surface.

Additionally, creating this kind of cyclical system that not only incorporates waste but makes more efficient use of it is indicative of a closed loop system. Closed loop water treatment systems are already more energy efficient than their open counterparts, and offer incredible flexibility for heating and cooling applications too.

So, on top of the more obvious benefits, it means that wastewater to energy systems can provide a variety of additional, efficiency-related benefits, as well.

The next question then, is how it all works?

​​​​​​​How is This Achieved?

Conventional sewage treatment systems are designed to filter and collect the solid waste or sludge that’s contained within water. The water flows through the system and the contaminants are removed. Of course, with traditional systems, those solid waste products are then disposed of elsewhere.

But by implementing a sludge-to-energy system, that solid waste would be passed into an effective energy production solution. It would be treated appropriately to activate “thermal hydrolysis” which helps maximize methane production. The gas is then passed through a series of additional systems — an anaerobic digester, for example — to filter out additional contaminants and produce a much more rich, nutrient-heavy gas. That gas is then harvested, stored and passed on for use in energy development systems.

The final piece of that puzzle is, of course, feeding the gas into the appropriate power development system to generate electricity.

​​​​​​​In the Real World

This technology is not a pipe dream, believe it or not. The World Resources Institute has researched sludge-to-energy systems in Xiangyang, China where population counts are high and waste management is a considerable problem. They found that a properly outfitted sludge-to-energy plant could produce enough compressed natural gas, and by proxy enough energy, to power up to 300 cars daily.

It’s already being used in countries like the United States, China, Argentina, Norway and Brazil. As more and more realize the potential of wastewater to energy solutions, adoption will grow even more.


10 Comments on "Is Wastewater an Effective Source of Renewable Energy?"

  1. Gaia on Mon, 13th May 2019 2:44 pm 

    Here’s a suggestion: Turn wastewater into freshwater by recycling it using modern day wastewater treatment technology (example: reverse osmosis).

  2. Cloggie on Mon, 13th May 2019 4:26 pm 

    Is it possible to produce hydrogen out of nothing but thin air?

    Toyota and the Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research, thought that is possible and proved with a prototype that it can be done:

  3. claes on Mon, 13th May 2019 4:48 pm 

    A lot of the polution going out to seas has its origin in agricultural outlets of phosphorous.

    That could be limited to some extend if you make a forrested buffer zone between the agricultural soils and any open waters like ditches, creeks, rivers etc.
    This method is often used in combination with the planting of willows (salix) that are later harvested as bio-fuel.
    Willows are fast growing and love high nutritunal soils.
    This is a bingo solution, but it will cost the farmers a lot of land, which means it will not be done.

  4. claes on Mon, 13th May 2019 5:14 pm 

    Waste water from basically any household today is so contaminated with chemicals and medicins, that it’s almost impossible to recycle into potable water. Our water culture is 100% unsustainable, no matter how you try.

  5. claes on Mon, 13th May 2019 5:32 pm 

    “This technology is not a pipe dream, believe it or not.”
    No, it’s not a pipedream, but it doesn’t solve any of the most important problems with waste waters, namely chemicals, phospheruos and medication leftovers.
    Seems to me the author is left some decades behind.

  6. claes on Mon, 13th May 2019 5:53 pm 

    The only solution I can think of is dividing our spill water system into two. One for feces and pees, and one for dishes and baths which are relatively harmless. This will only coast a trillion dollars, so it will surely not be done- or will it. The new democrat president runners could possibly find a way to finance it.

  7. Anonymouse on Mon, 13th May 2019 8:24 pm 

    I would like to donate my dirty dishwater to help solve the global energy crisis. What do I do? Do I put in a bucket and fed-x it to energycentral? Or should I send to cloggedsphicnters kibbutz instead? He can make hydrogen out of thin air, or so the lying little kike tells us…

  8. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 14th May 2019 12:52 am 

    Just pump all the sewage sludge
    into the House of Representatives.

    Because Congress is full of shit.

  9. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 14th May 2019 12:56 am 

    It’s fairly obvious that an industrial scale
    collection of urine, would be an obvious
    resource and easy to convert to agri-grade

    Furthermore urine is reasonably sterile,
    consistent in its chemistry, and
    does not harbor diseases.

    So it’s a no-brainer to setup an industrial
    process. The problem is nobody wants to
    piss into a bucket. (or a funnel).

    Furthermore people are unwilling to deal
    with the problem and solve it.

    The solution is gradual implementation.
    So, U start off with only the men’s urinals
    at truck stops.

    But after awhile, it can be expanded out
    to all the other scenarios.

    Do it gradually and U can save the earth.
    We will be running out of fossil-produced
    fertilizers anyway.

    Note that your government is far too stupid
    to do anything that works. Basically they
    are leeches who pretend to be leaders.
    They sit in the positions contributing
    nothing but extracting a high standard of
    living for themselves. They are scum so
    they don’t look into any of these things.

  10. Robert Inget on Tue, 14th May 2019 7:27 am 

    In arid zones ‘out west’ homeowners often reuse
    ‘gray-water’ from showers, sinks, to flush toilets.

    If a person is lucky enough to have bit of garden space, we divert gray-water for auto irrigation.
    It’s simple, just send all ‘blackwater’ to your septic
    tank and pipe everything else to your garden.

    If you can’t manage that, just use a hose to send used washing machine water to a container for reuse. Capturing washing machine water is as easy as peeing in the shower. If you use phosphate rich detergents, it’s fertilizer.

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