Wastewater treatment robot is fueled by human sewage

This isn't just potty talk. The experimental EcBot III uses the microbes in human waste to generate electricity, creating power from the water it cleans.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

One of the biggest challenges faced worldwide in years to come is the ironic connection between energy and providing potable water.

Traditionally, it takes a lot of electricity to run a wastewater treatment plant, which is why you often hear about innovative approaches to alternative energy that are located near them - such as the "data plant" project being run by Microsoft in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which is using biogas to power a server installation there.

Another project that recently caught my attention is the EcoBot III, a collaboration between Wessex Water and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in England. The robotics technology uses biomass to produce electricity and get rid of the waste in the water. Or, as the scientists explain it, that's a polite way of saying that the robot poops out what isn't needed. It even has it's own artificial stomach.

"Currently our treatment processes are energy-intensive, but if there was a way of replicating the EcoBotIII on a larger scale, some processes could be powered on the sewage they are treating," said Dr Julian Dennis, director of innovation and research for Wessex Water. “It would eliminate the need for electricity and would mean that in the future, sewage treatment works could become self-sufficient - driving down operational costs and significantly reducing our carbon footprint."

The technology is being used at an operation near Bath. It currently weighs about 6 kilograms and looks like a "three-tiered wedding cake." The robot is part of Bristol Robotics' broader research in microbial fuel cell technology.

For more on the new wastewater clean-up technology (which obviously will need to be scaled up before it can be truly useful), you can watch the short video below: 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Ioannis Ieropoulos, Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

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