Let’s talk about poop—specifically, how to harness the power of poop. Human waste is a fact of life and a major sanitation/health and environmental hazard unless it is managed properly. But some innovative individuals have found ways to go beyond managing the endless supply of feces: they have developed techniques that can turn it into energy.
Unlike finite sources of energy such as coal and oil, it’s pretty certain the human race will keep on producing this energy source. We are essentially up to our necks in poop, especially in some parts of the world where poor sanitation poses a constant health issue. So it’s about time we you-know-what or get off the pot, as my dad used to say, and do something useful with poop.
Think about that the next time you are sitting on the throne.
Power of poop in rockets
Ever wonder what the astronauts do with their human waste? This problem has weighed heavily on the minds of experts, especially as NASA gears up for a moon station. We can’t be leaving our poop on the moon! Now there’s an innovative way to utilize cosmic crap, according to researchers at the University of Florida.
The plan was developed by Pratap Pullammanappallil and Abhishek Dhoble, who determined how much methane they could get from samples of human waste as well as other waste (e.g., wash cloths, clothing, food waste) that would probably be accumulated by inhabitants of the moon station over a period of years.
The researchers developed a process that destroys the bad guys in human waste and then results in a combination of methane and carbon dioxide. The good news, according to Pullammanappallil, is that the process can produce enough methane so the astronauts can return from the moon fueled by their own waste! As a bonus, the process also results in a supply of non-drinkable water and oxygen, which the astronauts could use as a back-up.
The good news keeps on coming. As with many of the innovations developed by or for NASA, this process can be used on Earth as well. In fact, the authors pointed out that the new technique could provide power just about anywhere, from colleges to cities, supermarkets to subways.
Power of poop in buses
I was excited to read about this next power of poop achievement—a bus powered by human and food waste is on the road in the United Kingdom. This so-called “poo bus” is not the first in the world, however; Sweden has been sporting waste-powered transportation for years.
The UK bus runs on treated human waste and food scraps with some propane thrown in for good measure. The result is something called biomethane gas, which emits about 30 percent less carbon dioxide than diesel vehicles. According to GENeco, the company responsible for this project, the bus can go 186 miles on the amount of waste produced by about five people in one year.
Teens harness the power of poop
This is perhaps my favorite power of poop story because the idea was developed by teenagers. In Kenya, a group of five adolescent boys who are among 720 students at Maseno School developed a system for harvesting human waste from the students. The plan consists of using poop, along with organic waste from the kitchen, grass, and cow dung, in a human waste bioreactor (HWB), which produces biogas for cooking and replaces the need for firewood.
Under the leadership of teen Leroy Mwasaru, the boys came up with an underground chamber that can hold the waste materials and where microorganisms break it down. The breakdown releases biogas, which is composed mostly of methane and a readily available fuel.
Right now the kitchen at Mwasaru’s school is using a prototype of the students’ concept to produce biogas to cook for the students. The ultimate HWB project needs funds to get off the ground in a big way, and when it does, it could mean a whole new source of energy not only for the school but for countless buildings and more around the world.
I am a firm believer in reuse, reduce, reclaim, and recycle in all aspects of life. Such a philosophy honors the sacredness of our planet and all the life on it. Let’s hope these innovations and more in the future on how to safely and effectively reuse and recycle human poop will continue to smell like a rose.
That’s the latest scoop on the power of poop.
Also read Dog Poop and Your Health