It might not form the bedrock of a heart-warming conversation, but it does offer promise in a world racked by global warming concerns. For the most part, it is laudable that we have exploited sewage for everything from agriculture to electricity generation, and have designed a working modern wastewater infrastructure to deal with it correctly.
However, thanks to research findings from Virginia Tech, we can do more, especially in terms of the sustainability of the wastewater treatment facilities we use. Wastewater treatment is currently appreciated for helping the environment, but the process itself could be more efficient.
Microbial fuel cells could be incorporated in the treatment process to use the treated wastewater to generate substantial electricity that could at least partially power the treatment facilities sustainably and efficiently.
This is a potential valuable application of the discovery by Xueyang Feng and Jason He. The duo traced the metabolic pathways of different strains of bacteria and discovered that when bacteria acted on two different substrates concurrently, they were able to produce more energy than if they acted on each substrate separately.
For example, while the host bacteria used a substrate called lactate to support cell growth, it also concurrently used another substrate called formate to produce electricity.
This discovery thus fuels a growing trend to make wastewater treatment centers self-sustaining in the future. It also represents progress in the drive to achieve more sustainable infrastructure.
The researchers published details of their study in the journal Nature.