Clean Water, Energy From That Which Is Flushed?

A system for recovering drinkable water and harvesting hydrogen energy from human fecal matter recently beat out 2,000 other proposals to win funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Developed by a team of researchers from Imperial College London, the University of Manchester and Durham University, the technology could provide an inexpensive way for people in the developing world to generate clean water and energy from a free, renewable resource: poop.

Now, the idea of drinking water that’s been recovered from feces is less than appetizing, if not downright nauseating, but the research team says they’ve found a way to extract it using bacteria and metal nanoparticles. When fecal sludge is filtered through a porous scaffolding, these particles will react with the waste matter to generate recycled resources, like water, hydrogen, electrolytes or methane. These can either be used immediately or stored for later use.

toilet, recovering drinkable water

image via Shutterstock

With the funding from the Gates Foundation, the team will now get to work turning their concept into a functioning prototype. First, they’ll focus on developing a stand-alone sanitation device that will make it cheaper for people in developing countries to adopt the technology where large sewage networks may not exist. Where sewage infrastructure is in place, the technology could be hooked into the system, minimising implementation costs for home owners.

“In the future, we may see homes in the U.K. generating their own clean water, energy and fertilizer simply by doing what comes naturally to us all once or twice day,” said Martyn McLachlan of Imperial College, in a statement. “More important are the implications for developing countries, where the provision of clean drinking water is essential for supporting life and self-generated energy could be used to support economic growth.”

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog