Poop power to the people!

1 Apr

In the lab: Chuck's on the left. Victor's in back. Photo by Mike Wolterbeek.

My husband, Víctor Vásquez, is developer of poop power – coming soon to a sewage-treatment plant near you! Seriously. Víctor is a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. He and his colleague, Chuck Coronella, have developed a technology for removing excess water from sewage-treatment plant sludge and turning the dried-out sludge into energy. It’s brown power, people!

[tweetmeme source=”KateEGrey” only_single=false http://www.URL.com]See, your average friendly neighborhood sewage-treatment plant produces huge quantities of relatively clean sludge (relatively, I said). The sludge is just leftover, spent-out bacteria who did all their business to, ahem, clean up your business. In this too-wet state the sludge is rather useless. And heavy. So most municipalities pay huge amounts of money to truck tons of treated sewage to landfills just to get rid of it. I recall from one of Víctor’s proposals that this equates to hundreds of millions of dollars a year for New York City alone.

But there’s still energy locked up in the sludge — if only you could get rid of the remaining moisture. It’s too expensive to dry the sludge using traditional methods, because it’s full of bonded water still. Drying uses either too much space (think drying the sludge in the sun) or more energy to dry it out (think hair dryer) than you would gain from drying.

So Víctor and Chuck developed a fluidized-bed technology to dry out the sludge economically. Then, the dried sludge can be gasified on site to help run the plant, and excess power can even be sold back to the grid. Cool, huh?

Their pilot project starts operation this spring at the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility. If successful, their patent-pending technology could be applied to sewage-treatment plants all over the world. Here’s a recent feature on Reno’s KTVN:

Or see the story on the University of Nevada, Reno website.

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