Here’s a pretty elaborate way to process sewage waste: Stanford researchers propose using anaerobic bacteria to break it down, producing nitrous oxide or laughing gas. Then, use the nitrous oxide as rocket fuel, of course, which burns leaving only harmless oxygen as a byproduct. Rather than running needless rockets round the globe, the researchers propose that we use rocket-thruster technology to power sewage processing plants, creating a closed loop.
Is there a rocket fuel shortage, you might be wondering? No, but there is an overabundance of sewage in the world (insert world-weary pun here). Conventional processing adds oxygen to sewage sludge, encouraging aerobic bacteria to break it down and leaving nitrogen, which has a host of environmental problems associated with it. That’s because nitrous oxide, the byproduct of anaerobic bacteria, is no laughing matter for the climate: it’s a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Enter rocket science to save the day — at least the laughing-gas version pioneered by Stanford’s Brian Cantwell.
Removing oxygen from the poopy mix increases the availability of methane, which can also be used as fuel. As an added benefit, the anaerobic process is cheaper. It’s a complicated way to deal with life’s simplest problem, but, hey, it’s rocket science.
Photos: Stanford University; Kirk Crawford via Wikimedia Commons