Irene de Gelder

Future Scenario: Microwaving Your Poo To Generate Energy

Poo is rich in carbon, and carbon is used to generate energy. So why doesn’t anyone retrieve this carbon from our poo? Truth is that poo is a nasty product; no one wants to have anything to do with it. Direct use or exposure to untreated poo in large amounts is always hazardous and unhealthy. Next to that, it just smells really bad. However, researchers Oluwasola O.D. Afolabof and M. Sohail of the Loughborough University, found an interesting way of managing poo while they were looking for more hygienic and sustainable solutions for sanitary systems.


Microwave And Toilet - Photographer Unknown

Researchers Oluwasola O.D. Afolabof and M. Sohail found a technique that eradicates the bad smell and kills all the bacteria from poo, while transforming it into a substance more socially acceptable. Namely, coal.

This technique is simply microwaving poo. The poo goes into the microwave only a few minutes and you get coal. Meanwhile no greenhouse gasses get emitted making the technique eco-friendly. If you compare this to the current established coal industry that is relying on non-renewable coal, this is huge progress. 

It’s still needed to upscale the experiments; thus far the experiments were only carried out on a small scale. These experiments will be crucial for the design of microwave-based sanitation facilities and could for example determine if it would be more profitable to microwave the poo directly after it’s been flushed, or to first transport it to a sewer to microwave it there on a larger scale.

There have been experiments with heating poo before, but those were less successful. They among other things, took too long, were less efficient at heating the inside of poo, required a lot more energy and were a lot more expensive. Because of these obstacles it wasn't thought possible to heat poo in a profitable way. Now that these obstacles have been overcome by the microwaving technique, it has come within our possibilities to start heating poo to generate energy!