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Scientists Develop Inexpensive Unique Waste Cleanup Sysytem for Rural Areas

First Posted: Sep 19, 2014 02:31 AM EDT

A team of researchers has developed a novel inexpensive wastewater treatment system for rural areas.

In rural areas, the waste from dairy farms are directed in a series of ponds for it to be consumed by the bacteria, eventually generating carbon dioxide and methane pollution until it is treated safely. On the other hand, in urban areas with larger infrastructure, electrically powered aerators mix water in the ponds, allowing the waste to be cleaned faster with fewer harmful emissions.

Rresearchers at the Washington State University have developed a unique method that powers waste cleanup in rural areas by using microbes buried in the pond sediments. This is the first microbe-powered, self-sustaining wastewater treatment system that promises to be an inexpensive and fast method to clean up waste from the massive farming operations as well as rural sewage treatment plants, thereby reducing pollution.

According to the study led b Professor Haluk Beyenal, close to 5 percent of the energy used in the United States is utilized for waste water treatment. On the other hand, the rural communities and farmers cannot afford the electrically powered aerators.

The newly developed Microbial fuel cells use the biological reactions from the microbes present in the water to produce electricity. This microbial fuel cell plays the role of an aerator by using the power of microbes in the sewage lagoon to produce electricity. In this, favorable conditions were created for the growth of the microbes that could naturally produce electrons as part of their metabolic processes. It was seen that the microbes could power aerators in the lab for over a year and now the team plans on testing this for commercialization purpose.

"Everyone is looking to improve dairies to keep them in business and to keep these family businesses going,'' said Ewing. "The technology could also be used in underdeveloped countries to more effectively clean polluted water: This is the first step towards sustainable wastewater treatment."

This finding is reported in the Journal of Power Sources.

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