A group of researchers made a discovery that could be truly useful: they turned crude human excrement into fuel. They generated a safe and reusable product, literally with poop.
Okay, the headline may evoke laughter, but the scientists published a study in the Journal of Cleaner Production, mentioning the methodology of the process. The group is part of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR).
Technically, they have refined a process that uses hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) to heat solid human waste in a “pressure cooker”. In this way, they convert the excrement into hydrocarbon. The final result, they say, is a safe and reusable biomass fuel.
As explained by Eurekalert , the solids are dehydrated, creating a solid combustible substance, as well as a water-rich liquid in nutrients, which can be used as fertilizer. The institute’s researchers had conducted a similar investigation last year with poultry excrement, but now they did it with the human. Amit Gross, from the same institute, mentioned the following: “Human excreta are considered dangerous because of their potential to transmit diseases. Although it is rich in nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, human waste also contains micro-contaminants from pharmaceutical products, which can cause environmental problems if not eliminated or reused properly.”
The discovery helps address two challenges in the developing world: sanitation and growing energy needs. The World Health Organization estimates that millions of people still lack basic sanitation services, and energy shortages are also a challenge in several regions. “By properly treating human waste, we can address both problems at the same time,” he added.