Throughout the world, there are two major problems facing humanity: clean water and sustainable energy. And a new device may be able to solve both issues in one fell swoop.
Called the NEWgenerator, this device was created by associate professor of engineering at the University of South Florida Daniel Yeh. By filtering waste water and sewage into clean water, the generator simultaneously generates power and extracts nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater, which can be used as fertilizer.
The way it works is the NEWgenerator mimics a miniature wastewater treatment plant, minus the energy-intensive aeration tanks that blow air to break down pollutants and chemicals. By harnessing the power of anaerobic microorganisms, the process eliminates the need for oxygen, causing organic material to turn into biogas, which then generates electricity. The NEWgenerator can run completely on its own when coupled with solar panels.
The NEWgenerators are meant to be installed in developing regions, where municipalities struggle to keep up with increasing and unplanned amounts of waste. Housed in modified shipping containers, the devices can be shipped in and places almost anywhere.
In a 2015 project, Yeh tested a compact version of the device at a school in India for a year, which proved successful.
“During this entire period, the NEWgen operated solely on solar energy and provided wastewater treatment and water recycling at a rate of over 100 uses per day,” Yeh said.
The project has received a two-year, $1.14 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which will allow Yeh and his team to install the next iteration of the device in Durban, South Africa, then more developing countries in need of clean water and waste solutions.
“I believe that it has great potential for accomplishing high performance, small-scale wastewater treatment and water recycling, bypassing vast, expensive sewer networks that are difficult to achieve in many developing countries,” Yeh told Digital Trends. “The NEWgenerator is a way for us to engineer [this technology] into a compact, solar-powered, mini container form factor and represents the embodiment of 15 years of research.”
The as of now Yeh is focusing on rapidly developing urban areas, the device could also be used to provide sanitation and energy for off-the-grid, rural areas across the world, which also lack sewage infrastructure.