Science Museum switches to poo power

The Science Museum in London is planning to turn the waste it gets from its 3 million visitors a year to electricity.

London’s landmark Science Museum is considering using its toilet waste to produce electricity. The processed waste could produce as much as 1,530 kilowatt hours. The Museum is thinking of using microbial fuels cells, devices that produce power by cleaning waste water. Earlier this year scientists from Penn State University announced they had developed efficient and cheap microbial fuel cells.

A microbial fuel cell consists of a tube containing bacteria. Waste water is pumped through the tube and the bacteria feed on the organic matter. They release electrons through their membrane into a special carbon paper sheet at the end of the tube. This produces energy like a mini-power station enthuses a Science Museum employee. It also decreases the amount of oxygen in the water and cleans it.

Poo power is not a new thing. Human waste is used as a source of energy in countries where electricity and gas are scarce. A gas called Biogas is produced when bacteria feed on human and animal waste. This process, called anaerobic digestion by bacteria is a great way to produce green energy, as well as to get rid of waste and of the microbes that lurk in it. On top of that, what’s left when the waste has been digested can be used as organic (and chemical free!) fertilizer.

Hand-made, low- tech, small biogas plants are common in India, China and Thailand, where they use elephant dung. And in Australia pig excrement are used to power farms.

The Science Museum intends to switch to alternative sources of energy to cut down on its electricity bills and has just put solar panels on its roof. Poo power is the next option. “With free admission it would be a great way for visitors to give something back to the Museum and help keep the overheads down.” Says Museum Director Jon Tucker.


Science Museum London
Biogas info
Penn State University microbial fuel cell research

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