Professor Daniel Yeh has heard all the wisecracks about his work.
"If we can elevate it to a higher level and get past the iciness, we'd be better off," he said.
Yeh is building a machine that makes energy out of human waste.
"It comes from us," he said. "And we have a lot of it."
The USF engineering professor believes wastewater can be turned into a major source of energy and wastewater treatment plants can become "energy refineries."
MONEY FROM BILL
Yeh has received a $100,000 research grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to study how the technology may be used in remote villages around the globe, but he said it could become viable everywhere.
The process uses microbes that feed on what's in waste water. They produce gas that can be converted into energy.
A British company has built a Volkswagen Beetle that runs off biogas made from sewage sludge.
A similar process is used at the University of Florida in an experimental station that uses waste from cattle to produce energy.
TAMPA AT THE CENTER OF RESEARCH
In Tampa, the primary wastewater treatment plant already converts methane produced from microbes to power part of the facility.
Yeh has a team of USF graduate and post-graduate students assisting with his research. He said engineering students interested in renewable energy have flocked to help.
Graduate assistant Ivy Cormier believes potential energy from wastewater will help change its yucky image.
"What we're trying to do is shift that focus from a waste to a resource and find things in that wastewater that we can use and recycle, such as nutrients in water," she said.
IS ALGAE THE ANSWER?
Cormier is particularly interested in experiments using algae to produce fuel. It already grows naturally in many wastewater treatment plants, and Yeh said treatment plants of the future could farm the algae on a large scale.
Yeh's team is currently building a bigger waste-to-energy machine. He said he may try for a larger grant from the Gates Foundation to expand the research.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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