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ANTIOCH (KPIX 5) — A Stanford engineer has developed a way for sewage treatment plants to power themselves by taking the waste out of wastewater and turning it into energy.
“We’re converting the ammonia in the wastewater to nitrous oxide gas,” said Yaniv Scherson, the Stanford researcher who created the process.
Nitrogen is found in ammonia, which naturally occurs in urine, and when it is released back into the water stream it can kill ecosystems.
“[When] discharged into a water body, it causes what’s called a ‘dead zone’,” explained Scherson.
His process pumps oxygen into ammonia and turns it into nitrous oxide. You probably know of the gas’s other applications: laughing gas at the dentist, a race car driver’s secret weapon, and rocket fuel.
“That is not done anywhere else in the world, so this is a game-changer in our industry,” said Gary Darling, General Manager of Delta Diablo Sanitation District, which is where Scherson is completing a pilot program.
The process could eventually power 5 to 10 percent of Delta Diablo’s Antioch facility, which treats 13 million gallons of wastewater a day.
Eventually, researchers hope the process can be refined enough to create new wastewater plants that are energy self-sufficient.