Teru Talk News

Teru Talk Newsletter

Volume V, Issue 8, February 23, 2015 
Teru Talk by Michael Theroux (pronounced "Terú")  

Teru's Trash Talk

A reader from Ireland asked about one of my favorite waste conversion methods last week. If less than front page news, microbial fuel cells (MFC) are still pretty nifty. Microbes break down their lunch of complex organics into smaller molecules. For anaerobic digestion (AD) plants, we've learned to grow bugs that are really good at spitting out methane, burping butane or emitting a wealth of other chemicals. The bacteria used in MFCs occur naturally in wastewater, such as the iron-reducing bacteria. They certainly decompose just about any type of biodegradable organic waste, and while they are at it, they also can make electricity .

Waste conversion processes turn garbage back into goods, waste to wealth. Humans make some pretty yucky wastes themselves, and every sewage treatment plant worldwide uses bugs to break it down. More advanced treatment plants add AD tanks to make methane from the muck, then use that fuel gas to run engines that power and heat their plant. But we tend to lose energy with every hand-off, with each added processing step, and inefficiency costs money. If you can get bacteria to eat waste and spit out sparks directly, you really cut to the chase.

What folks are learning to do with these overly-sparky microbes is proof of Man's unending inventiveness. At the University of Bristol, they make little robot MFCs that are powered by urine-slurping microbes. There's bound to be a solid niche market somewhere, given the availability of personally produced feedstock. On larger and perhaps more practical scales, research teams around the world are perfecting MFCs that make electricity while cleaning organic-laden municipal and industrial wastewater. According to the MFC team at Penn State, the microbe-produced power flows because their bugs stick to one electrode, the "anode", in vats without handy oxygen molecules. Their harvested electrons have to go somewhere, so they seek out the other electrode, the "cathode", which conveniently sits in a separate but adjoining vat of water that has plenty of oxygen. The imbalance works just like any battery. MFCs break down the organics introduced into the dirty-water side and produce only clean water and electricity.

Penn State takes the MFC trick a step further: they add a bit of outside electricity to that anode side and deprive the corresponding cathode of available oxygen The MFC then produces Power and Pure Hydrogen! Of course, when you make something this cool, you have to give it a really complicated new name: Penn State calls their MFCs " bioelectrochemically assisted microbial reactors". I wonder what the Brits at Bristol calls their tiny urine powered MFC robots ... Peewee?

Hey Rube!

We don't really have to look that hard to find smart people commercializing amazing waste conversion platforms. After all, systems like anaerobic digesters may seem old hat to some of us, but Tropical Power says they are just now commissioning the first plant in Africa to pump biomethane into the regional natural gas grid. Sainsbury's markets in the UK are running their stores on methane-power from their supplier's sugar beet waste, and reclaiming even their refrigerator waste heat for great efficiency. And wonder of wonder of wonders: the Sierra Club has published a very favorable article on All Power Lab's biomass gasification tech platform, asking, "Can Ending Energy Poverty Abroad Create Jobs At Home?" Way to go, Clubbers!

This Week's Top Story

Tropical Power Commissions Pioneering Biogas Plant in Africa

Tropical Power Energy Group (Tropical Power) has built and is commissioning the first grid-connect Anaerobic Digester (AD) plant in Africa, in Naivasha Kenya. 02/18/2015

The Week's News

ILG Schedules Webinar on CEQA Guidelines for Recycling Projects

Cities and counties across the state are working to meet the state mandated waste diversion goals. To do this, governments across California are looking to build and expand recycling infrastructure projects. 02/20/2015

Citi Commits $100 Billion Over 10 Years to Finance Sustainable Growth

Citigroup, Inc (Citi) has announced a commitment to lend, invest, and facilitate a total of $100 billion within the next 10 years to finance activities that reduce the impacts of climate change and create environmental solutions that benefit people and communities. 02/20/2015

London Report Calls for Food Waste Separation for All London Boroughs

Every year the City of London throws away over 7 million tonnes of food and drink from its homes, with food waste accounting for around 20 per cent of all domestic waste. 02/20/2015

APL Focuses Waste Biomass Gasification Systems on Global Energy

All Power Labs (APL) has announced that Dr. Dan Kammen has agreed to join APL as the founding member of its Board of Directors. 02/20/2015

ElectraTherm Commissions Three Waste Heat-to-Power Generators in Alaska

Nevada based ElectraTherm, Inc has commissioned three Green Machines to produce fuel-free, emission-free electricity from diesel gensets at the Dutch Harbor power plant in the remote Aleutian islands of Alaska. 02/19/2015

Sainsbury’s Powers Fridges Using Sugar Beet Waste from Suppliers

United Kingdom (UK) based Sainsbury’s has pioneered new technology to power its fridges in its Portishead store with a new natural product that’s produced entirely from waste. 02/19/2015

Trillium Inks Deal to Install CNG Station at Monterey Environmental Park

Chicago based Trillium CNG™, a business unit of Integrys Energy Group, Inc, has signed a letter of agreement with the Monterey Regional Waste Management District in California to build, own, and operate a new compressed natural gas (CNG) refueling station to power the District's CNG refuse trucks. 02/17/2015

£60M Will Be Invested in UK Community-Scale Renewable Energy Projects

The United Kingdom (UK) Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced a new investment of £60m by the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) and the Strathclyde Pension Fund (SPF) in UK community-scale renewable energy projects. 02/17/2015

Valicor Acquires Patent for Co-Product Recovery from Ethanol Production

Valicor Inc has announced that it acquired a patent that covers the extraction of protein from corn ethanol stillage and is designed to help ethanol producers maximize their co-product recovery and value. 02/17/2015

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Teru Talk is an online publication of JDMT, Inc with the goal of opening the dialogue and providing current news and commentary on issues and successes associated with waste conversion to renewable energy, biofuels and other bio-based products for resource recovery.

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