Waste Not, Want Not

UCI scientists create eco-friendly fuel, heat and electricity from sewage

Imagine being able to get the equivalent of 70 miles per gallon in your car, keep your home cool and power your computer – all from sewage. Thanks to technology developed by UC Irvine’s National Fuel Cell Research Center and partners, that’s now possible.

Ten years of hard work, led by center associate director Jack Brouwer, has paid off in a cutting-edge project at the Orange County Sanitation District in Fountain Valley. A unique fuel cell generator simultaneously and continuously converts gas created in wastewater digesters to hydrogen used for zero-emission vehicle fuel, electricity and heat in a highly efficient manner.

“This will reduce smog and greenhouse gases and mean a better quality of life for Southern Californians,” says Brouwer, showing off the white generator box and shiny silver pipes across from a waste settling pond, along with a brand-new hydrogen fueling station.

Starting this month, drivers of select hydrogen-run cars will be able to exit the 405 freeway at Euclid Avenue and fill up with converted sewage waste. Numerous major automakers have announced plans to commercially manufacture such vehicles by 2015. Using locally produced hydrogen will increase its supply and bring costs in line with other renewable energy sources.

“This is a paradigm shift,” says center director Scott Samuelsen. “We’ll be truly fuel-independent and no longer held hostage by other countries. This is the epitome of sustainability, where we’re taking an endless stream of human waste and transforming it to transportation fuel and electricity. This is the first time this has ever been done.”

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