University of Colorado Boulder

Amazing New Process Treats Wastewater, Captures Carbon and Makes Renewable Energy

Cleaning up municipal and industrial wastewater can be dirty business, but engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed an innovative wastewater treatment process that not only mitigates carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but actively captures greenhouse gases as well.

The treatment method, known as Microbial Electrolytic Carbon Capture (MECC), purifies wastewater in an environmentally-friendly fashion by using an electrochemical reaction that absorbs more CO2 than it releases while creating renewable energy in the process.

“This energy-positive, carbon-negative method could potentially contain huge benefits for a number of emission-heavy industries,” said Zhiyong Jason Ren, an associate professor of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at CU-Boulder and senior author of the new study, which was recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Wastewater treatment typically produces CO2 emissions in two ways: the fossil fuels burned to power the machinery, and the decomposition of organic material within the wastewater itself.  Plus, existing wastewater treatment technologies consume high amounts of energy. Public utilities in the United States treat an estimated 12 trillion gallons of municipal wastewater each year and consume approximately 3 percent of the nation’s grid energy.

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