Growing biofuel algae in wastewater

We call it waste, but there’s a lot of power in what we flush down the toilet. Creative designers have given us pee-powered gadgets and poo-powered vehicles, but that’s just the tip of the ice berg.

A Spanish water company called Aqualia is growing biomass in what many call the world’s largest sewage-powered algae-to-energy plant. With the first crop of algae already a success, the company claim’s the results of its All-Gas project will be enough to power 200 vehicles annually “with a single toilet flush.”

Image via Aqualia

Cities around the world spend millions each year treating and storing wastewater. Like many waste to energy projects, the All-Gas project aims to turn this unfortunate by-product of human life into something that can actually move us forward as a species.

“One of our most ambitious lines of research examines using wastewater as a key factor in obtaining biofuels,” reads the All-Gas website. “If possible, this would revolutionize the current wastewater treatment paradigm: what had, until now, been considered an undesirable by-product would become a valuable resource.”

Launched in 2011, the project aims to build a 1-hectare prototype biomass power plant where wastewater can be treated and mined for nutrients that will produce a powerful algae biomass. The microalgae also allows the purification of wastewater to a high standard, and the biomass obtained shows a high energy potential relative to its digestibility level, according to Environmental Leader.

A major complaint about biomass is that it either utilized food crops or requires the cultivation of non-food crops on land that could otherwise be used for agriculture. Algae-based biomass satisfies both of these criticisms, while also cleaning up wastewater that would have to be treated anyway.

Those working on the All-Gas project say it will be extremely helpful in reaching the European Union’s goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Beth Buczynski, EarthTechling