Scientists Turn Excrement Into Electricity — Really

Scientists in the U.S. have developed a method to convert raw human waste — or as the scientists call it, “number two” — into electricity, putting a brown spin on the green-power movement. Oops, did we say “movement”? Okay, okay, we’ll try to be serious: The process works by feeding the … material … into a microbial fuel cell (MFC) that uses bacteria to break it down — much as the human body does — but diverts the resulting electrons, which would normally power respiratory reactions in the bacteria, into a power generator. Even better, harmful organic matter is broken down in the process, so the MFC can serve as a kind of sewage treatment plant. The technology promises extraordinary benefits, particularly to developing nations that desperately need both sewage treatment and inexpensive energy. But, says microbiologist Derek Lovley, large-scale use is a ways off: “One way to think of this technology is that it is currently at the state of development that solar power was 20 to 30 years ago — the principle has been shown, but there is a lot of work to do before this is widely used.”