Advertisement

Scientists turning human waste into biofuel in South Korea

Researchers hope to make the system efficient enough to produce a biofuel that is economically competitive.

By
Brooks Hays
A waterless toilet system at UNIST's Science Walden Pavilion coverts human waste into compost that is used to make biofuel. Photo by UNIST
A waterless toilet system at UNIST's Science Walden Pavilion coverts human waste into compost that is used to make biofuel. Photo by UNIST

ULSAN, South Korea, May 31 (UPI) -- Researchers in South Korea have turned a bathroom into a laboratory for sustainable energy. They're turning human waste into biofuel.

The experimental bathroom features a waterless toilet system that breaks down human waste into a dehydrated and odorless compost-like material. The material is transported to a digestion tank, where a community of microbes convert the waste product into carbon dioxide and methane.

Advertisement

A combination of intense pressure and membrane film help scientists capture the CO2, which is used to feed green algae for biofuel production. The methane is reserved for use as a heating fuel.

Researchers hope to make the system efficient enough to produce a biofuel that is economically competitive.

"Our ultimate goal is not only for the new toilet system to save water and operational costs for wastewater treatment plants, but for us to establish an ecosystem that supports technology innovation and drives economic diversification where human waste literally has a financial value," Jaeweon Cho, a professor of environmental engineering at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, said in a news release.

The researchers recruited artists and architects to make their experimental bathroom more inviting, designing and installing a "futuristic toilet," rain garden roof and other aesthetic flourishes.

Advertisement

"This is a very exciting project for us," said Cho. "We expect that this will become a pivotal stepping stone in the developing future of many countries facing dangerous sanitation issues and a lack of reliable, affordable energy."

Latest Headlines