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更新时间:2017-10-26 19:26:49 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

'Fatbergs',faeces and other waste we flush could be a fuel

Our planet has a problem. Humans, like all living creatures, produce a lot of… well, unpleasant waste. In the form of pee and poo. Left untreated, it can poison water supplies, pollute rivers and ruin coastal areas. Unsanitary drinking water and a lack of proper toilets is a massive problem in developing areas, and in more developed areas, huge amounts of energy are needed to render our wastewater safe.


But we may be looking at our sewage in the wrong way – it may actually be a precious commodity rather than a smelly byproduct of our daily lives.


A handful of inventive engineers are finding ways to harness the potential of our bodily waste by turning it into energy that can light our homes, and fuel to power our cars. Here are a few examples of how some gross ideas could turn out to be some grand ones.


Running on pee power?


One innovative approach is turning urine into electricity with the help of bacteria.


Researchers at the University of the West of England have created compact, living power stations known as microbial fuel cells that can turn pee into power. That energy can put to such tasks as illuminating small rooms or juicing up small electronic devices.

西英格兰大学(University of the West of England)的研究人员已经建造出袖珍版生物能发电机。它被称为微生物燃料电池,可以把尿液转化成电能,可用于给较小的房间提供照明,或者给小型电器供电。

The fuel cells are already unique in that they contain bacteria - bacteria normally found growing on the metal underside of ships and oil-rigs in the ocean. They grow on electrodes, and feed on organic matter in urine as it flows past them, producing a small current of electrons.


“This technology not only cleans the wastewater, and so improves sanitation and hygiene, but at the same time it is generating energy,” says Ioannis Ieropoulos, director of the Bristol Bioenergy Centre and professor at the university, as well as leader of the project.

"这项技术不仅能够清洁废水,还能改善卫生状况,并产生电能,"西英格兰大学教授、布里斯托生物能中心(Bristol Bioenergy Centre)主任、项目主管扬尼斯·艾罗普洛斯(Ioannis Ieropoulos)说。

The researchers have already used the pee-powered fuel cells to charge a smartphone, although it took about 64 hours to completely fill the battery on the device. The cells produce just under an amp of current and around three volts of electricity. But Ieropoulos believes it will be possible to boost the power of the fuel cells further by tweaking the materials and the process.


For parts of the world where sanitation and electricity are both scarce, it could have a dramatic impact. Worldwide, there are over 2.5 billion people without access to safe sanitation while 1.2 billion without access to electricity. In July, the team installed a stack of microbial fuel cells into a toilet block at a girls’ school in Uganda to power the lights in the cubicle, and another outside to light the path to the building at night.


The technology could also find use in developed countries too.


“There is a huge amount of wastewater that goes down the drains every hour around the world,” he says. “This is where the greatest potential lies for the technology, if we can implement it as close to the source of the waste as possible. It can create electricity to run appliances at a household level and ease the pressure on wastewater plants.”


But the fuel of the future isn't limited to our, er, liquid creations.


Poo potential


Microbial fuel cells could also soon deal with the solid waste our bodies produce, too. Ieropoulos is working with researchers in the United States through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who are developing techniques to turn solid faeces into a sludge that can flow through the fuel cells.

微生物燃料电池还可以用于处理人体产生的固体排泄物。艾罗普洛斯正通过比尔及梅琳达·盖茨基金会(Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)与美国的研究人员合作,开发把粪便转化为泥状物送入燃料电池的技术。

“We have been testing our system with faecal sludge,” says Ieropoulos. “It is much more enriched and so the microbes can generate more power.”


‘Faecal sludge’ may be an unlikely phrase to hear in the context of clean energy, but this is not the only project attempting to deal with human number twos.


In Bristol, England, Wessex Water has installed a biogas plant at its sewage works to that is turning raw sewage into 56 million litres of biomethane a day.

在英国布里斯托,韦塞克斯水务公司(Wessex Water)在下水道系统上建了一个生物气体工厂,一天可以把废水转化成5600万升生物气体。

According to a report produced by the United Nations University in Japan, if all human faeces was converted into biogas, it could provide electricity for 138 million households.

日本联合国大学(United Nations University)的一份报告称,如果把人类所有的粪便转化为生物气体,可以为1.38亿个家庭供电。

And there are other disgusting things lurking in the sewers beneath our towns and cities that could also be put to good use.


Fat fuel


In almost every city around the world huge congealed blobs of grease, oil and fat accumulate to form “fatbergs” that clog the sewers.


Among the largest to be uncovered publically was discovered last month in a stretch of Victorian sewer tunnels beneath Whitechapel in London. The 250m-long fatberg – twice the length of the football pitch at Wembley Stadium – weighed 130 tonnes and took nearly three weeks to clear. But rather than being dumped into landfill, the offending blockage was sent to an innovative processing plant to be transformed into 10,000 litres of biodiesel that can be used in buses and trucks.

其中最大的"肥球"是上月在伦敦白教堂区(Whitechapel)地下维多利亚时代下水管道的一段发现的。这个肥球长达250米——是温布利球场(Wembley Stadium)的两倍——重130吨,用了近三个星期才清理完毕。但是处理方法并不是把它扔到垃圾填埋场,而是送到创新技术工厂处理,将其转化为10,000升生物柴油,提供给巴士和卡车使用。

The plant it was sent to is run by Argent Energy in the town of Ellesmere Port, in Cheshire, north England. It has developed a process that can turn smelly, dirty fatbergs into clean fuel by filtering out the muck, chemically altering the fat in a process called esteriesterification and then distilling it. The resulting fuel can be mixed with normal diesel so it can be used in standard diesel engines.

处理这批肥球的工厂是由位于英国北部柴郡(Cheshire)埃尔斯米尔港(Ellesmere Port)的Argent Energy公司运作。该公司开发了一套流程,能够将发臭、肮脏的肥球转化为清洁能源:首先过滤掉渣滓,然后对脂肪进行所谓酯化反应的化学转化,最后进行蒸馏。所得燃料可以和普通的柴油混合后供常规的柴油发动机使用。

“This stuff clogs up the sewers and treatment works but it is full of material we can turn into fuel,” explains Dickon Posnett, development director at Argent Energy. Posnett estimates there are between 300,000 and 400,000 tonnes of grease and fat pulled out of the UK’s sewers and water treatment works each year while in New York, blockages caused by grease cost the city $18 million over five years.

"这东西会堵塞下水道和下水处理系统,但是它里面有很多东西可以转化成燃料,"Argent Energy的开发主任迪肯·波斯内特(Dickon Posnett)解释说。波斯内特估计英国一年可以从下水道和下水处理系统提取30万至40万吨油脂和脂肪。而在纽约,油脂造成的堵塞在五年内造成了1800万美元的处理成本。

Argent Energy’s plant currently receives around 30 tonnes of sewer fat from a single treatment works the city of Birmingham, England, each week, producing about 2,000 litres of fuel. But Posnett believes the plant could pump out up to 90 million litres of biodiesel a year when it is fully operational.

Argent Energy的工厂每周处理来自伯明翰市下水道处理系统大约30吨油脂,生产出大约2000升燃料。但是波斯内特认为该工厂如果满负荷运作,一年最多可以生产9000万升生物柴油。

And it is not just fatbergs it could help deal with.


“The plant can deal with all sorts of highly degraded fats and oils,” says Posnett. “So it can take things like rancid mayonnaise or soup that has gone off. We get sent pallets and pallets of soured ghee, for example, that would otherwise be going into landfill.”


But another firm – Cape Town-based AgriProtein – has an even less pleasant way of dealing with food waste.


It breeds black soldier fly larvae that gorge themselves on the discarded food waste before they are then harvested, dehydrated and pressed to extract a rich oil from the bugs that can be sold as an eco-friendly feed for livestock.


AgriProtein already has an industrial scale plant running in South Africa to deal with food waste, but its approach is now also being applied to human waste.


“The flies love s**t,” says Marc Lewis, a director of The BioCycle, a company using AgriProtein’s flies to tackle human waste. It has set up a pilot processing plant in Isipingo, Durban, South Africa, where it receives three tonnes of faecal sludge from 80,000 toilets scattered around the country’s Kwa-Zulu Natal province.

"苍蝇喜欢粪便,"The BioCycle公司主管马克·路易斯(Marc Lewis)说。该公司使用AgriProtein公司的苍蝇处理人类的排泄物。它在南非德班(Durban)的伊西平戈(Isipingo)建立了试点处理厂,每天接收来自夸祖鲁-纳塔尔省(Kwa-Zulu Natal)八万个厕所的泥状排泄物。

This smelly gloop is then inoculated with young larvae before being harvested 13 days later. Lewis anticipates it will be able to generate up to 940 litres of oil a week from the waste it receives when the plant is fully up and running. The oil is sold as fuel but there could be other opportunities too – it is high in lauric acid, a compound commonly found in coconut oil and is often used in soaps and moisturisers.


Lewis also believes there is also plenty of room for expansion in the future.


“With further research we could take our industrial knowledge to other hazardous waste streams that are becoming globally problematic,” he says. This could include animal manure or leftovers from meat processing plants.


When looked at in this way, the most unpleasant of substances could end up being the most unlikely tools to build a better future.