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The generation of electricity in a process that simultaneously accomplishes wastewater treatment represents a whole new approach to wastewater treatment. Conventional wastewater treatment is ordinarily an intensive energy utilization process. However, the organic matter in the wastewater actually contains energy that can be harvested in various forms such as methane and hydrogen gases, and electricity. We review here experimental work at Penn State that shows that electricity can not only be generated from specific compounds (such as acetic acid and an amino acid), but also from domestic wastewater. The potential economic benefits of this process are substantial. For example, complete recovery of electricity from domestic wastewater produced by 100,000 people could generate up to 2.3 MW of power. While not all of this electricity can be recovered, we estimate that a reasonable goal is to recover about half of this energy using high-surface area biofilm processes that generate power at a rate of 500 to 1000 mW/m2.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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