University of South Florida associate professor Daniel Yeh has just been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Water Sanitation and Hygiene Grand Challenge, to develop a new waste-to-energy program. That’s human waste , and since we produce a lot of it, the potential to extract energy from it is immense.
“In a nutshell, it is looking at waste as an opportunity, as a resource, looking at it beyond the fact that it’s waste,” Yeh told the Tampa Bay Times recently.
Yeh’s machine is called the NEW (nutrients, energy and water) generator, and uses microbes to break down human waste into all its usable components, producing not only energy in the process, but also fertilizer and water for irrigation.
“I keep going back to the fact there are 7 billion people on the planet,” said Yeh, in a USF interview. “It’s kind of a wake-up call.
“How are we going to make enough food? Where’s the energy going to come from? We have to stop having everything being a one-way street. We need to close the loop.”
Yeh is closing that loop with poop. And the potential is enormous. In a large scale test of the system, Yeh is using Gates grant money to help fund the construction of larger prototype to be installed at Learning Gate Community School, a Hillsborough County charter school with a sustainability focus.
In the meantime, Yeh continues to refine the small version of the NEWgenerator currently operating in his lab at the College of Engineering. The “waste” matter used for testing at this stage is actually dry cat food soaked in water which, according to Yeh, “mimics the properties of human waste” . That’s probably another story altogether, but check out the video below to learn more.