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MSU Researchers are Turning Waste Into Fuel

By Lawayne Childrey | Published 24 Feb 2011 11:27am | comments
MSU researchers are hoping to turn wastewater into fuel

As Americas energy needs continue to grow researchers are looking for cleaner, cheaper ways to keep up with the demand. To conclude our series highlighting Engineering Week, MPB's Lawayne Childrey examines how experts are assessing the countries energy needs and coming up with possible solutions.

As tensions continue to rise in the Middle East, oil and gas prices are beginning to rise in the United States . That's part of the reason America is seeking alternative fuel sources. But Mara Hartman with Entergy Mississippi says it also has a lot to do with our high tech lifestyle.

"With the advent of things like those big flat screen TV’s. And the more that we tend to use this great technology that comes out, cell phones and IPads and all of that the more electricity we're consuming."

Entergy services more than 435 thousand customers in Mississippi alone. Hartmann says with so many growing concerns around energy her company tries to make use of a diverse mix of fuel resources.

"That includes nuclear, our most affordable source of energy. Natural gas which is what we predominately use and more. Now in order to continue to meet the future energy needs at an affordable level we’re going to need every source out there not just renewable but also new nuclear, clean cold and energy efficiency measures as well.”

Dr Rafael Hernandez is with the Sustainable Research Center at Mississippi State University. He says they have identified microorganisms that naturally grow in wastewater and become extremely fat with oil when feeding off wastewater nutrients. Hernandez says these are the same nutrients that are produced from the runoff of garbage disposals, washing machines and storm sewers. He says his team is very close to testing their research using wastewater from Wayne Farm Poultry Plant in Laurel that could create alternative fuel.

“We take the waste carbon that is present in that wastewater, we produce a biofuel. And now Wayne Farms would have a biofuel that they can potentially use to transport their product which is the chicken coming from the chicken farms to their facility in Laurel. Or to transport their finished product to distribution centers.”

Hernandez says another attractive element of their research is that it also uses resources found in landfill wastewater. It's a similar process that the Golden Triangle Landfill's Executive Director Jimmy Sloan is very interested in.

“Which is what we’re planning on doing and will be doing before the end of this year, making electricity with gas. Landfill gas, garbage to electricity. It will go actually through the lines of Four County Electric Power Association to TVA and then they will re sell it as green power.

Again Entergy Representative, Mara Hartmann.

“We definitely think biomass could be a good solution really, here in Mississippi and were looking into that as well. In fact Entergy does buy some energy from biomass companies. There are a couple that use rice hulls for instance and sugarcane biogas to produce steam that creates electricity.”

With companies like Entergy seeking new alternative forms of energy, Hernandez says he is even more optimistic about the research being done at MSU

“We are changing how wastewater treatment is gonna be viewed in the future, contributing to the design of a new wastewater treatment process that not only treat the water but also extract as much energy from that waste carbon in the water as possible to produce a useful product which is biofuel.”

“The nice thing about this is that we’re not the only country that treats wastewater.”

That's Dr. Todd French, a chemical engineer at MSU who also specializes in biofuels research.

“So once this technology is developed here you know countries like India who has huge populations, and this is population driven. The more people you have the more waste they generate, the more fuel they could potentially produce out of those. But it has the potential to move globally and help offset some of their fuel petroleum needs.”

Both MSU engineers say even if their research proves successful there will always be a need for other types of alternative fuels including nuclear energy. But even if all are perfected they say society will still depend heavily on petroleum based fuel for many years to come. Lawayne Childrey MPB News.


MSU researchers are hoping to turn wastewater into fuel



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