The Sustainability Problem:
The more we learn about the negative effects of fossil fuels, the more the world is looking to alternative and renewable sources of energy. New technology has been explored to create energy from various waste streams for many years now. Focus is on looking at waste readily available in particular locales and finding new uses for them, including energy generation.
The Technology Solution:
A new technology has figured out a way to create energy from human urine through the process of bacteria metabolism. By designing special urinals to capture the urine and introduce the bacteria, they are able to harness the energy. The Science News article explains the technology this way:
“The technology in the prototype is based on microbial fuel cells (MFC), which, like batteries, has an anode and a cathode,” explains Irene Merino, who is a researcher on the team thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and works alongside another Spanish worker, Daniel Sánchez.
The cells are installed inside a container which collects the urine, currently only from male users due to the design of the urinals. Inside, bacteria colonise the anode electrode and act as a catalyst, decomposing the organic material in the pee.
This decomposition releases both protons, which travel from the anode to the cathode across a semipermeable membrane, and electrons, which travel through an external electrical circuit. To complete the cycle, an oxygen reduction reaction also takes place in the cathode. The process generates enough energy to power light bulbs or LED tubes.
- Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (funding the research grant)
- University of the West of England and the Spanish researchers (research university)
- Urinal makers who will mass produce the technology
- Glastonbury festival workers and attendees (where the prototypes are being tested)
- Refugee camp workers and residents (where the tested prototypes will be installed for further testing)
- Develop a set of prototypes to test at the Glastonbury festival to test mass use of the technology
- Take learnings from the test at Glastonbury and create further improvements to the urinals
- Deploy improved urinals in one refugee camp test site for a second testing of the new prototype
- Create further improvements until the technology is ready to be deployed in a larger scale
- Submit reports to Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to identify successes, possibly secure extra funding for next phase of the project
This technology is addressing plastic waste pollution, by transforming used plastic into bricks. Plastic can take up to 500 years to biodegrade and 75% of plastic produced globally is in a landfill or not formally disposed of.
- The industrial process is called extrusion
- Uses a multilayered plastics, mixtures of different plastics and rubber to make a quality construction material
- The bricks are shaped into pieces that interlock with each other making the pieces connect like a puzzle.
- Waste Management Facilities
- People without homes
How to deploy this technology:
- Estimate cost of extrusion process
- Estimate amount of plastic needed
- Involve Waste Management Facilities
Problem: Synthetic plastics are used to produce food containers, because these plastics do not to chemicals in food. This turns out to be an issue when these containers go to landfills and do not degrade. There current methods for recycling plastics are energy intensive. The technique in this article and the research is geared towards reducing plastic pollution and in turn creating usable liquid fuel.
- Utilizes by-products of petrochemical production known as alkanes
- The chemical process is known as cross-alkane metathesis
- Uses about half the amount of energy needed to breakdown plastics
- Wast management/recycling entities
Steps for deploying technology:
- Find average cost savings this technology will provide to recycling facilities
- Find areas where the fuel can be used in the recycling facilities
- Estimate cost of deploying this technology at a recycling facility
While we can’t live without it, plastic becomes an issue when it comes to waste management. Especially in places with no proper infrastructure for waste management, plastic becomes a major challenge that comes with a multitude of negative environmental impacts. Being largely developing and driven by the tourism industry, the island of Bali, Indonesia, is a clear example of a place that faces this issue.
The Plastic to Fuel project, started by a local start-up called Eco-Mantra, is a project that aims to develop a low-tech, low cost plastic pyrolysis technology that could convert plastic to diesel. This technology not only deals with the issue of plastic waste, but also provides an alternative energy source using materials that are readily available. Technologies such as these could potentially be a decentralized and market based solution to the larger waste management problem of the island and other places alike.
- Community leaders
- Educate residents and communities on the importance of recycling plastic, and proper waste management
- Collaborate with other local businesses to spread the use of the technology
- Potentially propose technology as a larger waste management solution for the island to the local government