As the world’s population grows and becomes more dependent upon technology, the need for increasing energy has become a major issue. Not only do nations globally need to attain more energy for the coming decades, it also needs to be environmentally friendly in order to reduce the impacts of global warming. Not only are such issues as these facing the world, sources of daily necessities are also facing a potential crisis due to a growing population and increasing temperatures, such as water.
Now a team of researchers from Pennsylvania State University believe they have developed a technology in order to combine the need for energy and clean water. A prototype waste water generator has the potential of becoming vital to communities, especially those in developing nations. The prototype uses waste water to generate energy while also cleaning the waste water for further use.
Currently the level of energy attained through the process is minimal but has the potential to grow. However, the device is very useful even in its current state for treating waste water. The prototype uses reverse electrodialysis (RED) and microbial fuel cells to generate energy and clean the water. Both technologies have been used in other devices but were combined here by the researchers.
Scientists have known about the potential of reverse electrodialysis for years, however, harnessing the power has proven somewhat problematic. Generating high levels of energy require plants to be placed at the intersection of fresh and salt water in order to get a chemical difference to provide a charge and therefore potential energy. REDs require a series of many membranes in order to work properly and to attain energy. However, using microbial fuel cells as the membrane aids in creating the charge, driven by the waste water, while also cleaning the waste water. This also reduces the need for a large number of membranes.
Another issue with RED units is the need to be placed near the sea, which greatly reduces the application of the process. However, the Penn State researchers have created a system that uses ammonium bicarbonate in order to attain the complete charge to generate energy, the role of salt water generally, meaning it does not have to be located near water to work.
The researchers are still perfecting their prototype and it is unknown whether it will be tested at a large scale in the near future. Their complete findings can be found in the journal Science.