Turning Garbage to Energy with the Help of Bacteria
written by: Ashwin Satyanarayana•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 11/2/2009
Renewable energy seems to be the venerable answer to our growing energy needs and any new discovery on better, newer or faster ways of producing energy is high on the world's priority list right now. So how about turning garbage into energy?
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Looking to Bacteria for Help
Thanks to the paranoia that is now creeping into everyone’s minds about the energy crisis we have now, energy is now being drawn from all kinds of sources possible. So what plausible source are we looking to draw energy from? Extremophiles -- a microbe (bacteria) that thrives in extreme conditions (low temperatures), pressures, extreme salinity, depth of oceans, etc. and even your trash.
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Making Energy from Garbage
Some researchers at the University of California have come up with ways to draw energy from the garbage you dispose into bio-gas that has the potential to generate electricity and can power homes and offices. They have devised a “digester" which works in two-stages (unlike most digesters which use just one stage).
Typically, all the food waste and other such forms of garbage is collected from homes and restaurants for instance and is fed into these digesters which allow this feed to under go decomposition which is naturally occurring. Different classes of bacteria have different effects on feed like this, but our group of bacteria actually decomposes the entire feedstock and produces methane (up to 60-80%) which can then be used as fuel to provide electricity.
Anaerobic digestion, the kind of digestion that happens within these digesters, isn’t the same as our digestion. We certainly don’t have bacteria within our body that can turn stuff into methane, do we? Animal waste and sewerage plants typically use anaerobic bacteria for treatments since these bacteria can process heat and produce methane, as was mentioned above.
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Energy Production Per Ton of Garbage
If the landfills can be spared from the left over food and other digestible waste, it can all be used to produce power to run our homes. It is estimated that one ton of left over food can power a whopping 18 homes. So next time you leave food on the table, think about the poor and hungry in the world and then also think about all that energy that could have been produced.
The capacity of this process is slated to power about 25 homes a day and can also be extended to other uses such as fuel processing plants. This is bound to be eco-friendly, easy for the industry to adopt and a great energy source for the rest of the world.