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THIS WEEK IN ECOTECH: Wastewater to Electricity, CO2 to Stone, and Edible Packaging
March 11, 2012
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Human waste, carbon emissions and garbage - three enemies of a clean environment. But some emerging technologies could change that. From a scientist working on a way to turn waste water into electricity to a Harvard professor who wants us to eat the packaging our food comes in, here are the latest breakthroughs in eco-tech.

Converting Wastewater Into Power

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Bruce Logan and his team of scientists have developed a new technology that not only generates electricity from sewage water, but actually cleans the water in the process. The eventual goal - which Logan says is getting close - is to use wastewater to power sewage treatment plants, removing the need for coal, oil or gas-based power. The process that Logan and his team have developed generates electricity by channeling the energy of bacteria in wastewater into fuel cells. He doesn't have a precise timeline for when the tech will be ready to go mainstream, but he does think it could happen fast: "We're seeing this technology evolve very quickly... This is a problem we can solve".

Iceland Experiments With Turning CO2 Into Stone

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Iceland is in the testing phase of an interesting experiment: the country wants to replace smokestacks with well injectors that will pump CO2 underground in a process intended to turn the greenhouse gas into rock. The CarbFix pilot program is taking place at the Hellisheioi Power Station, the second-largest geothermal heat and energy facility in the world. The carbon dioxide emissions from the Station will be dissolved in water, forming carbonic acid, and then injected into basalt, a form of volcanic rock. Over time, the acid will cause various elements to recombine into minerals like limestone.

At the moment, it's an imperfect system - it requires a lot of water and electricity, and separating the CO2 from other gases has proven very difficult - but the team has seen some positive results from their work. Whether it will become viable strategy for controlling emissions remains to be seen.

Good Things Come In Delicious Packages

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Plastic food and beverage packaging creates a lot of waste. Dr. David Edwards is a Harvard professor who thinks he has a solution: packaging you can eat. Edwards is working on WikiCells, an edible packaging technology. The basic idea is to create a soft membrane made up of food particles that surrounds the actual food product itself. That membrane can also be coated in a harder, edible external shell.

WikiCells isn't widely available yet, but some products are on sale at Lab Store Paris, Dr. Edwards's storefront, and he's planning to release more to the public in May through a company he's forming. In the long term, he wants to design a machine that will allow others to manufacture their own edible packaging, and help to do away with plastic packaging altogether.

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