A golden bug

A team of American researchers in Oregon have figured out how to make electricity out of raw sewage.  They started by adding a smattering of gold particles to the sewage along with bacteria that release electrons that creates electricity.

The technology already works in the laboratory, but there are several problems they have to work out before this process can be implemented on an industrial scale.  One is the cost of gold – even the small smatterings of it that are required to make the process work fast enough to be viable.  At this moment, it looks as if iron might speed up the process just as well, and would produce electricity at a competitive cost in today’s market.   The cathode chamber also needs to be improved, and choosing the best microbial species to do the job requires more study.

If it works, it would have an immediate impact on agriculture.  Maybe even more significant is the impact it could have in the Third World where it could help solve two problems at once.  It would provide electricity to communities that don’t have it and would use the untreated sewage which now blights so many lives  with disease.

Researchers also think the same process might be used to desalinate water to make it drinkable, and to produce hydrogen to run our cars.

Truly a golden bug if they can make it work.

About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
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