Reclaiming Clean Energy from Wastewater
As the Earth becomes more developed many changes in the environment are becoming apparent. These changes are unexpected and often faced with opposition from skeptics. One of these problems is climate change, also known as global warming. Global warming is caused by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are produced on a large scale by combustion of fossil fuels. A major contributor to greenhouse emissions is the combustion of coal, oil, and gas in power plants. Many options to fossil fuels as a source of energy have been suggested, but with increasing energy demands our society is reluctant to risk a change. Alternatives such as wind energy, nuclear power, and fuel cells have all been suggested, but all have draw backs and limitations. The focus of this paper is expanding fuel cell production of clean energy. The problem with fuel cells is that they require hydrogen to produce energy, and currently hydrogen is produced by hydrolysis of water with dirty energy. Dirty energy refers to energy that creates dangerous byproducts such as greenhouse gasses and criteria pollutants. It is said that we can never extract more energy from hydrogen than is put into it. This is true only if we use conventional methods to produce hydrogen. What if we could turn to nature to find a way for us to produce hydrogen?
As it turns out nature did find a way millions of years ago. Bacterial cells evolved proteins called hydrogenases that release hydrogen gas by fermenting carbohydrates. This process releases hydrogen gas as a byproduct. Clostridium butyicum can be used to create hydrogen gas on a production level. A source for clean hydrogen for fuel cells has been found. But where to the carbohydrates come from?
Scientists at Pennsylvania State University found a creative source for these carbohydrates, sugars in municipal wastewater. Using Clostridium sp. to produce hydrogen gas from sludge could change wastewater treatment plants into local power plants. The plants would utilize the hydrogen gas in fuel cells. Clostridium sp. requires anaerobic conditions for hydrogen production. This would decrease the costs for wastewater treatment, as aerators are a very expensive component of wastewater treatment, in addition to generating clean energy. Wastewater treatment would have to shift to anaerobic processes. By changing wastewater treatment plants into power plants the burden of energy production would be shifted away from fossil fuels. Reductions in greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions will have a myriad of effects that will benefit humanity.
The decrease in fossil fuel combustion will benefit humanity by reducing global warming and by improving health of individuals. According to Plan B the raise in world temperatures could lead to increased intensity and occurrence of severe storms, the...