By Chris Wickham
LONDON (Reuters) - Microbes used to treat human waste might also generate enough electricity to power whole sewage plants, scientists hope.
The technology is based on the relatively new science of electro-microbiology that is finding uses for the discovery that certain microbes can generate an electrical current outside their own cells.
In the context of sewage treatment, they would purify waste water by consuming the organic matter in it and use that energy to generate a current that can be harvested and stored.
Co-author of the research, published in the U.S. journal Science, Bruce Logan of Pennsylvania State University, compared the process he is developing to the movie The Matrix, where humans are hooked up to machines to provide electrical power.
"In our article we describe a process which is somewhat like that but what we do is use certain micro-organisms which can be connected to devices to generate an electrical current that can be used to generate power," Logan said.
An estimated 3 percent of the electricity generated in the United States is used to run waste water treatment plants and at least 5 percent goes into the whole water infrastructure, said Logan, adding: "That's clearly not sustainable."
Logan says the technique, still in its infancy, has sparked interest from companies including Siemens and General Electric, as well as a number of small startup firms. Continued...