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Harnessing the power of human waste

Harnessing the power of human waste

Qilin Wang

Full article issued by the University of Technology Sydney.

Treating human waste consumes energy and produces greenhouse gas emissions, while being a major expense for councils and water utilities. ARC Future Fellow, Dr Qilin Wang, is the Eureka Prize winner for most Outstanding Early Career Researcher, and is working on technology that could turn wastewater treatment plants into carbon-neutral energy generators.

Some treatment plants already produce what’s known as biogas, but existing processes recover just 5 to 10 per cent of the energy stored in sewage sludge, says Dr Wang, an environmental engineer with the Centre for Technology in Water and Wastewater Treatment at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

His pioneering technology, still in development, would maximise energy recovery by recruiting an otherwise unloved by-product of the wastewater treatment process – free ammonia.

Laboratory experiments suggest this 'green' technology could improve energy recovery from sewage sludge by four to six times. It’s also easy to implement, with no need for special equipment or inputs such as chemicals or external energy.

'My goal is to try to transform the energy-consuming and high emissions sewage treatment process into a zero energy – or, even better, energy producing – low-emissions process,' Dr Wang says.

In an added bonus, recent experiments suggest this free-ammonia technology could also reduce the presence of antibiotic resistant genes in the sludge, and therefore in the environment.


Dr Qilin Wang. Image Credit: UTS

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