Power to the Poo!

Discussing one’s use of the lavatory is usually frowned upon in polite conversation, however that is slowly changing. Experts in various fields of sustainable energy want you to be excited about using the “loo” for both the environment and your pocket book.

Currently wastewater treatment plants consume large amounts of energy, between 1% to 3% of global output. Newer plants utilize between 20 to 45 kWh per population equivalent in treating wastewater, while older plants use much higher amounts of electricity. There is movement afoot to reduce energy usage of plants by way of using our high-energy content fecal sludge to power the treatment plant, instead of sending it to the landfill. In some cases, the result is a self-sustaining plant, a circular economy, with the potential to give back to the energy grid. There are a number of innovative, promising technologies that help treatment plants reach this goal.

According to the UN, the average person defecates 500g per day, which could be converted to 50 litres of methane production capable of generating 0.5k WH of electricity or drive an electric car 1.2 km. Multiply this by the human population of Earth and we have an untapped, bountiful energy source.

So how do we turn sludge into power? Anaerobic Digestion. An anaerobic digester breaks down organic matter by denying the organic matter oxygen and using bacteria to turn it into raw biogas. Currently, many plants flare off this gas into the atmosphere but when properly collected and upgraded it becomes Renewable Natural Gas (RNG), also known as biomethane, that can be sold and pumped through existing infrastructure pipelines to be used for electricity, heat or powering vehicles. While using biogas is not new, technology advancements have widened the playing field for use.

By investing in wastewater plant technology upgrades, we can protect the environment, diverting sludge from landfills which are large sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, convincing stakeholders to invest in poo has been challenging, it is not however, impossible. Thinking outside the box for uses of human waste will lead to a better tomorrow for everyone.

Instead of thinking of and treating our fecal matter as a nuisance, let’s think of it as a natural investment in our future. By creating a circular economy, we protect the environment and save money at the same time. So, the next time you excuse yourself to the lavatory, don’t worry about the smell, think of how you just powered the popcorn maker to watch that episode of the Mandalorian you missed. Power to the Poo!

Check out our Biosolids Treatment Solutions pages for more information.