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Researcher Turns Wastewater into Power

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The wastewater from your morning coffee could power your home.

How many cups of coffee do you drink on a regular basis? Do you know the production process that goes into each one of those cups? ‘Cause it ain’t pretty. Coffee bean farming and processing produces a lot of wastewater, full of pollutants and completely unusable. A lot of the families that own coffee farms can’t afford to send their waste water to treatment plants, and just end up dumping it in the ocean, where it could have long term ramifications. If only there was a way to clean up some of that water, and perhaps turn it toward something productive in the process.

Luckily, that’s exactly what University of Surrey Professor Claudio Avignone Rossa concocted in his lab. Professor Avignone Rossa had been experimenting with a particular kind of microorganism known as electrogenic microbes. These tiny bacteria have a fascinating biological process wherein they feed on the contaminants found in human wastewater, not only removing those contaminants from the water, but producing natural biochemical electricity in the process! While the microbes can’t completely purify wastewater (yet), they can cut the contaminants down by a good 30%, allowing more of the water to be reused.

“Small-scale coffee growers who use the classical method to produce green coffee beans could use this approach,” Professor Avignone Rossa said in his study. “It means less strain on water supplies, cleaner local waterways and more green electricity in family farming communities which could welcome a boost to their social and economic development.

“As well as rolling this out more widely, we’re also looking at what can be done at the other end of the coffee chain to see if there’s a more efficient use for waste ground coffee. Coffee has a variety of biologically active compounds, which present interesting opportunities if they can be extracted. We’re also researching what can be done with other forms of agricultural waste, like a banana peel.”