Hydrogen from waste water could power electric vehicles


In order to remove pathogens, wastewater treatment is essential, but it requires a lot of energy. Researchers from WMG, University of Warwick, have been able to overcome the challenge of treating it more sustainably by employing recycled carbon fiber mats to manufacture hydrogen from waste water.

Treating waste water to remove diseases and safeguard the environment is essential, but this comes at an environmental cost, as it consumes roughly 3% of UK energy use – the equivalent to 13 billion kilowatt hours.

Wastewater firm Severn Trent challenged WMG, University of Warwick, researchers to develop a more energy-efficient approach to treat wastewater, and the team successfully built on research into Microbial Electrolysis Cells to accomplish this goal

Electrolysis of microorganisms Biodegradation of organic contaminants in waste water is accomplished utilizing electromagnetic bacteria. Producing hydrogen gas is a lucrative resource in and of itself, as it may be sold to the chemical and plastics industries or used in hydrogen fuel cells for energy storage or electric vehicles.

Anode materials used in a chemical reaction to break down organic pollutants, which are formed of graphite or carbon and cost several hundred pounds per square meter, have yet to be produced on an industrial scale since they are expensive and yield poor rates of Hydrogen.

So Dr. Stuart Coles and his team set out to find an alternate anode material and manufacturing method, and discovered recycled carbon fiber mats that cost under $2 per square meter.

Recycled carbon fiber anodes were shown to be more temperature-tolerant and produce more hydrogen than previously used materials when tested on fake and real wastewater samples.

They then proceeded to test their methods at Severn Trent’s Minworth waste treatment facility, where they were able to remove 51% of organic contaminants and up to 100% of suspended particulates from the water while creating 18 times more hydrogen (at 100% purity) than the graphite material.

Dr Stuart Coles, from WMG, University of Warwick comments: “We are really excited about this technology. By taking waste from the automotive and aerospace sectors, we have developed a circular solution to a longstanding problem. Instead of just treating the wastewater, we are now able to extract value from it in the form of hydrogen at a lower cost than ever before.

“The next phase of this work is look at optimising the design of the microbial electrolysis cells and further reduce the level of pollutants in the water. This in turn should help produce even more hydrogen!”

Bob Stear, Chief Engineer at Severn Trent adds: “The performance boost and cost savings demonstrated from this research mean that MEC technology is one step closer to being cost competitive with existing wastewater treatment assets. WMG have also demonstrated that this technology has the potential to create a more circular wastewater treatment process which will be essential to delivering on our long term sustainability goals and Net Zero plans. We’re currently scoping scaling up the technology at our test-bed plant in Redditch.”

Anela Dokso

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