The Global View

Poo-microbes fuel cell: the answer to energy woes?

manure.jpgSo, the world needs renewable energy now. Like, now as in yesterday. But rather than working on wind and solar and all those old favourites, one scientist says we’d be better off mixing up a heady combo of human poo and microbes and sitting back to enjoy the resultant energy (if not, presumably, the smell.)

In an article in Biotechnology and Bioengineering, Bruce E. Rittmann of Airzona University’s Center for Environmental Biotechnology says that microbes could be our future energy saviour.

Says Greenbang’s new favourite academic:

“To make a dent in global warming, bioenergy must be generated at a very high rate, since the world today uses 10 TW of fossil-fuel energy. And, it must do so without inflicting serious damage on the environment or disrupting our food supply. While most bioenergy options fail on both counts, several microorganism-based options have the potential to produce large amounts of renewable energy without disruptions.”

So, where do we get all the fuel from?

“Microbial communities convert the energy value of various biomass residuals to socially useful energy. Biomass residuals come from agricultural, animal, and a variety of industrial operations, as well as from human wastes.”

Well, Greenbang guesses it’s the one fuel you can be reasonably sure will turn up without interruption. ITV’s game show output is a never-ending source of crap, for example.

In a presentation by Rittmann earlier this year, he explained how it all works (it’s here if you fancy a gander). You stick the poop – or other organic fuel – in a fuel cell and let the microbes do the rest.