The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) used 5 billion gallons of fuel last year, at a cost of about $13 billion. And a big chunk of that change went to delivering water to troops on the front lines, which can cost as much as $60 per gallon of H2O. One project that could help control these costs and improve energy self-sufficiency – critical aspects of the DOD’s Energy Strategy – is a portable, self-sustaining wastewater treatment system now being developed by researchers at Michigan State University (MSU).
The project, led by assistant professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering Wei Liao (pictured in bottom photo), could increase the mobility of troops and provide a waste and water solution for the military that is more sustainable and cost-effective than hauling drinking water by truck. The system uses solar power and a biological conversion process to break down wastewater and food scraps, producing methane biogas, which can then be used as fuel.
The discharge from the wastewater system is then run through a nano-filter to provide on-site drinking water. The portable system is designed to serve about 600 people, and can be transported with a semi-truck. If successful in a military setting, Liao hopes that the project could be scaled up for a wide range of wastewater treatment applications, from agricultural operations to municipal wastewater treatment plants.
The project was awarded a $1.92 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, as one of 32 initiatives funded by its Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program.
“The short-term goal is to drive costs down and to allow the military to alleviate supply chains’ overarching control over its maneuvers,” Liao said. “The long-term goal is to apply advanced and integrated technologies to transform agricultural and municipal wastes from an environmental liability into a public and private asset.”