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Energy Jobs: Will Tomorrow’s Biofuel Be Human Waste?

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U.S. Green Technology | Where Main Street Meets Green Street
Will sewage plants create the eco-fuel of the future? Image from pennlive.com.

What will tomorrow’s alternative energy jobs look like? Where will we source our fuel from, and what resources are we only now beginning to tap? Well, human waste, for one. A group of companies in Tokyo are working on converting sewer sludge to hydrogen biofuel to power fuel cell eco-cars. That means the sewer workers of today could hold important energy jobs in the future.

Nikkei, one of Japan’s business periodicals, reports that, despite how messy it may sound, deriving hydrogen from sewer sludge is actually cleaner and uses less energy than processing fossil fuels or natural gas. It uses about 75 percent less energy than alternatives.

That doesn’t mean the process is perfected yet. In order to get hydrogen, the disgusting sludge has to be heated and dried, releasing methane. The methane is then trapped and reheated, creating hydrogen. The end result is a clean fuel, but the process is . . . well, not exactly spic-and-span.

For one thing, to keep the process green from start to finish, the sludge would have to be dried and heated using renewable fuel sources. For another thing, it’s human waste.

Some of the main people working on the project hold energy jobs at organizations like Toyota Tsusho Corp. (an affiliate of Toyota Motor Corp)., Japan Blue Energy Co., and Mitsui Chemicals Inc. If their efforts are successful, it could open up a whole new realm of possible energy jobs.

How far along is this project? The companies involved think they can have the end product commercialized by 2015. There should be no shortage of vehicles that can run on it–both Honda and Toyota have new fuel cell cars in development that could utilize the new fuel. But it will be interesting to see how it’s marketed to consumers. The wrong ad campaign could send this project down the crapper.


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